Ball is life

Career / June 25, 2018

Dodd breaks barriers as female sporting official
Amid the wave of cheers and inevitable jeers during a sporting event, it’s paramount for the official refereeing the game to maintain focus and keep a level head. While the screams of excited fans can often be deafening, Kristy Dodd and Melissa Mitchell have no problem blocking them out and focusing on the job they showed up to do.

Dodd’s history with basketball began on the other side of the whistle. She grew up playing basketball and eventually went to Henderson State University to become a student assistant for the women’s basketball team. Years after a recruiter planted a seed in the back of her mind, Dodd finally started officiating basketball games at various levels across the state.

Mitchell also grew up playing basketball and went on to officiate intramural games in college. After she realized her ability to analyze the game and make accurate calls could earn her money, she began officiating basketball game professionally.

HER: How did you become interested in officiating for basketball games?

Kristy Dodd: “I was probably 21 years old sitting in the stands trying to recruit players and I ended up sitting by an official one day. He was there observing other officials and he said, ‘You know, you should really get into officiating.’ He planted that seed that long ago and I ended up doing a lot of other basketball things, then one day it was like, ‘Yeah!’ That seed just sprouted and I felt that I could start officiating.

“I ended up either calling the Arkansas Athletics Association or looking on their website, I can’t remember, and found they offered a training camp. I mean, what a better way to learn than to go to a camp. That was seven years ago. I got to start officiating that same year and did it for four years. I took two years off for myself and now here I am back at it.”

HER: What do you enjoy about being a sports official?

Melissa Mitchell: “I think one of the biggest highlights is being able to still be connected to the game but just on the other side of it. It’s definitely a different perspective on the other side of the basketball to go from being a player to being a referee. You gotta learn the different dynamics of the game that you weren’t necessarily aware of as a player. The game has changed significantly from when I played to now.”

HER: How is it being a woman in an area of athletics that is heavily dominated by men?

KD: “Having been involved with sports most of my life, the ‘boy’s club’ was nothing new to me. I do a lot of hiking and stuff and that is also a very male-dominated type of activity. I have found that the guys I work with, the ones officiating with me, are super nice. So nice that you don’t even think about being different. There was this one time at a camp where me and this coach went toe-to-toe; he’s towering over me and I’m looking up at him and I said, ‘I can’t believe you’re talking to a woman this way.’ He looks down at me and says, ‘You know what, when you put that striped shirt on it doesn’t matter what you are.’ He was right; once you get on the court, as long as you do a good job and you hustle, people don’t care. They just want you to call a fair game.”

MM: “Some areas where I’ve had to travel have never seen a woman official. So first, there’s shock. Athletic directors and coaches who greet you at the gym, or whoever greets you, sometimes don’t acknowledge you because they think you’re the spouse of another male official. Then, when they find out you are a referee, the coaches sometimes try to undermine your intelligence because they feel like you don’t know enough about the game … Communicating well is what I believe is the biggest way to overcome that barrier. Being able to not only be confident in the calls you’re making but also communicating them as well.”

HER: Do you feel that you have an impact on another woman as a female official?

KD: “Yes. I would say it’s at the smaller schools in Arkansas. I went to Bald Knob the other day and I had this little girl look at me when I walked in and her eyes got all big. She looks at her mom, says something, and then her mom starts looking at me. At that point, I started to wonder if I had toilet paper sticking to me or something. After the mom looked at me again and we made eye contact, I decided just to go ask her if something was wrong. It turns out she had never seen a female referee at one of their games.

I ended up going over to the little girl and saying, ‘We need officials so if you start to think about it…’ It took me 14 years before the seed which was planted in me took root. Who knows, maybe 14 years from now that little girl will be an official somewhere. I think that’s the impact I see more of as I do this in smaller parts of Arkansas.”

MM: “I would say yes. There are so few (women officials) that are in sports, period. Definitely to upcoming officials who feel they might have the temperament for it. Not only as a woman, but period. There are a lot of people who feel they don’t have the temperament to be a referee. There is a shortage of referees around the state.

“There are also young women coming up in schools that have never seen a woman have that kind of power and authority in a sport. I was at the state tournament last year and a lady volunteering at the tournament brought her children to the game. She asked them what was different about the game because they had never seen a woman officiating basketball.”

HER: How do you find these jobs as an official?

KD: “Well, you go to camps. Assigners have these different camps, and it’s not only a place to learn how to referee but a try-out. You’ll go to a camp and have an assigner who assigns referees to different schools; most of them look for improvement when they go to select a referee. If they see that, they will put you in the level games they feel you are ready for and just keep moving you up until you’re doing regular high school games. You want to have a few different assigners so you’re not going back to the same gym all the time. Most people have anywhere between three and four assigners they work for in the state.”

HER: How do you deal with the fans screaming at you?

KD: “The biggest thing that helps me is remembering that fans are emotional. That’s why we watch sports; it’s an emotional rollercoaster that we enjoy. We cheer for a team and if we lose, we’re down. When people are thinking from an emotional point of view, they are not always the nicest or most logical. They are probably not really even very proud of themselves once they come out of that emotional place.”

HER: If you had to sum up why you are passionate about being a basketball official, what would you say?

KD: “I go out there every single night because I know it gives a number of players on the court an opportunity to grow as a human. During a game, you will have times where the ref doesn’t make the right call, that gives the kids playing the opportunity to decide how they want to show their character. It’s through all those chances that they get to develop as a human where I find the reason why I do this.

“Every time I see someone who I think might be interested or good at becoming a referee, I make it a point to go up and talk to them. If we didn’t have officials, then the kids couldn’t have the experience and the character-building opportunities that they do on the court. Without officials, the kids don’t grow. It doesn’t matter if the seed I planted takes almost 14 years to sprout like it did with me because eventually, it could happen. I just want to encourage more people to get into it, male and female.”

Grace Brown

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