Officials, umpires and referees are paramount to the success of every competitive league. LGBT sports leagues cannot exist without competent people who administer the game and so these officials become community heroes, helping support gay sports in a very important way.
The importance of taking care of them is critical to ensuring that the great ones continue to return and that those entering the officiating world are afforded the opportunity to expand their knowledge base. As competitors there is a sense of security when an elite official is walking onto the field or court. When it comes to the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL) tournaments, seeing referee Hank Cary mid-field for the coin toss provides a silent understanding that you are in good hands.
Jared Garduno: What sports do you referee, Hank?
Hank Cary: Ultimate frisbee, flag football and high school football.
JG: How were you introduced to the world of officiating?
HC: I never had any plans to officiate so the introduction to being an official was an accidental one. While attending college and before coming out I was part of a church group that played ultimate frisbee. There was a moment when I realized that my talents on the field were capped. But wanting to stay on the field, I contacted USA Ultimate to gain a further perspective of the rules. Playing in a self-ref league helped with a smooth transition into officiating. Currently I sit on the National Officiating Observer Committee of nine.
JG: How did you become a flag football referee, then?
HC: I joined the Denver Gay Lesbian Flag Football League (DGFFL) as a player. It was fun playing but when former DGFFL commissioner Jonathan Marquez asked me to join the referee crew I jumped at the opportunity. The invitation to become a referee was assuring and crucial to the process. I encourage leagues to extend the offer to people they feel possess the talent to referee. People like me are eager to participate but will wait until asked. Fortunately I was asked.
JG: Why did you decide to take the next step and join the ranks of high school referees?
HC: Lance Burage, the NGFFL head of officials was officiating at the high school level to improve his craft, and I followed my mentor’s example. The past four years of refereeing at that level have helped me with both structure and professionalism.
JG: Share with us a few lessons you’ve learned from officiating.
HC: Two significant lessons I take into every game are first, admit when you are wrong. We don’t always see everything and if we missed something, we need to let the players know. If you make a mistake, the players and coaches appreciate the honesty. And second, you don’t always need the last word. Remember, the players are caught up in the middle of the game and are seeking to vent their frustration.
JG: What advice do you have for coaches and players when communicating with referees?
HC: Work with the referees, don’t just talk or shout at them. Some coaches don’t like their players to speak to the referees. I encourage players to communicate with the referee when they are unsure of a call or have a question. However, be conscious of when to stop the conversation with an official and get back into the game. Halftime is an appropriate time for further explanation of a call.
JG: Is it important to take a moment to reflect after each game or tournament?
HC: There are a number of appropriate points during a game or tournament for self-reflection. Taking the time to talk with your crew during the game, halftime and at the conclusion are crucial times for dialog. Then after a game or tournament, think about how you could have handled a given situation better or chosen a better phrase to communicate with a player or coach.
JG: What advice do you have for new officials?
HC: Knowledge Doesn’t = Experience: Experience = Experience. As you gain experience the game does slow down. You will go from tunnel vision to a wide-open plane. Allow the game to come to you.
Hank Cary is the 2016 Jared Garduno Sportsmanship Award Honoree
Jared Garduno is the outgoing NGFFL commissioner.