It’s been just over a month since I officiated my last international game of wheelchair basketball. And what a game it was – the men’s gold medal game between Spain and USA with two good friends in Cristian Roja and Sebastien Gauthier.
I remember in Beijing as I stood courtside supervising the warmup of the bronze medal match, consciously taking in the atmosphere of where I was – the Paralympic Games. I had gone through those games, so focused on what I was doing on court that I had almost emotionally missed where I was.
Rio 2016 was a very different experience, partly because I was more experienced, but mainly because I knew it was to be the final time. I was far more emotionally aware of the whole experience and this made for a very memorable games.
When I started out 20 years ago I could not have foreseen what was to come. Sure, I knew what I wanted – to referee at the highest possible levels – but all that was to follow to make this happen, I had no idea at the time. I was blessed with a number of great mentors, both at home in Australia and internationally, who all helped to shape me to be the official that I am. There were the good times but there were also the not so good times. The times when you are not selected for events to which you are aspiring or don’t get the games that you hope for.
I was asked recently, “What is the most important lesson you learnt during your career?” My answer – to constantly be open to learning, to be willing to change and adapt and never assume you know it all.
The reality is that the game has continued to change, officiating has continued to change and I therefore as an official had to be able to adapt and change. Even at my final tournament, I was able to make the adjustments asked of us as officials.
Someone else asked me “What’s the secret to a long career?” For me the answer is simple. Enjoy what you are doing! I love refereeing wheelchair basketball. I enjoy the challenges it presents. I treasure the people involved (both players and officials). To be honest I don’t want to stop! But the reality is that everything must come to an end and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to decide this for myself – to stop while I am still refereeing well rather than just slipping away.
Leading into the games in Rio, there had been a lot of conjecture as to how well supported the Paralympics would be. The naysayers were saying that after the Olympics, the Brazilian people would not support the games. I even heard of teams and athletes preparing, expecting that they would be competing in near empty stadiums. How wrong were they! The crowds and the support were amazing! Following The Netherlands and USA quarter final I posted
“Really going to miss this! I reflected after the USA against The Netherlands quarter final today that there are not many jobs in this world where you get to work in front of 10,000+ people. I know this is the right time, but I AM going to miss it.”
On at least three occasions I had privilege of refereeing the host nation and the Carioca home crowd was deafening in their support of their team. That said, the Brazilian people were equally supportive of all teams and the sport in general. Rio was amazing!
One of the realities of refereeing at this level is that there are many things that impact on your game appointments. One of those things is the teams that are playing – you are never appointed to games in which your country is involved. Throughout my career the Australian Men’s (Rollers) and Women’s (Gliders) teams have been major forces in wheelchair basketball. This has been great for my country and has made me a better official because back home I got to referee some of the best players in the world. And of course you want your own country to succeed! But this has meant that gold medal games have generally not been a possibility. My aspiration going in to tournaments has been to referee well and be in the mix for selection for the bronze medal game.
The second last evening of the Rio Paralympic competition will be one that I will never forget – that night we had a meeting of the referees where the appointments for the final day were distributed. I had been appointed as Crew Chief for the men’s gold medal game. I am not ashamed to say that it took all my strength to hold back the tears. What a way to finish! My emotions were tinged with sadness – I understand that this was only possible because the Rollers had fallen short of reaching their goal – but I was also proud of the fact that I had refereed well enough throughout this tournament to achieve this appointment. Was I the best referee there? No! I know this – the fact that Spain and the USA were playing in the final game eliminated two great officials. But I do know (through feedback from the referee supervisors) that I had earned this appointment. And that is the thing I am most proud of! That I could finish my career at the top of my game.
The game itself was one I will never forget. The final score did not reflect the close contest that took place. Our crew worked well together and made for a memorable experience. And when I got to blow the concluding whistle – I was happy with the job done – happy with the decision – but sad that it is over.
So where to from here…
At this stage I still plan to continue to officiate back home in Australia but my focus is about giving back. Trying to share my experience and bring though the next generation of officials. I continue for the present to be involved with IWBF in my role on the Technical Commission and as the Technical Officer for Asia Oceania zone. I hope to continue to develop my skills as an International Instructor and to pass on what I can.
I am grateful to all who have made this journey possible, who have supported me over the years – my two children Shane and Kirsty (Shane wasn’t even one when I started) – to Helen and her boys for the support over the last 10 years – to the many people involved in the sport back home – and especially my many friends and colleagues in the IWBF – the International Wheelchair Basketball Family!