Lots of milestones today. Here's one about soccer. Each year, registered soccer referees have to take a recertification class. At the session this morning, we had a nice surprise. Those of us who have been officiating for 5, 10, 15, and 20 years were given tokens of appreciation from the MA State Referees Committee. The gold whistle was for serving for 10 years, and the pin was for reaching 15 years.
Of course, being the compulsive sort, I have a record of every game I have officiated, going back to that first Under-10 girls game on April 23, 1994, and listing the other 514 since then.
I have written here about the differences between officiating girls and boys games, the relationship between referees and spectators and coaches, and the evolution of confidence in soccer referees. What I have not mentioned so much is the camaraderie that develops among those of us who are referees. It is independent of age or gender, and it is a great part of the game.
Our girls soccer league created a scholarship award that is awarded each year to the girl referee who "has achieved high standards of maturity, sensitivity, good humor, and sound judgment in managing play to promote the great game of soccer." It is named in memory of Grant Balkema (shown in photo), one of our friends and fellow referees, who died suddenly about four years ago.
Here is a portion of the eulogy I delivered at his funeral:
"I have an image imprinted in my mind, one that has popped up dozens of times in the last few days: I am greeting Grant as he is walking off a soccer field after having refereed a game. He is always smiling. He loved to referee. He never took himself too seriously, and he always did what he could to help make the game fun for the children or young adults playing the game. He was the perfect ref, in that he understood that the best game was the one in which people forgot that there was a referee on the field."
Grant received his referee certification a few years after me, and so I think he would have received recognition today for having passed the 10-year mark. So, on behalf of all of us who knew him and officiated with him, I am taking this moment to offer that recognition in a different way.