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Female Referees Say They Get Foul Shots : High school sports: Only a few survive in this male-dominated area. And those who do take much more than their share of the abuse.

February 19, 1990|JEFF MEYERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles area needs a few good women to fill the shortage of female high school basketball referees. The part-time job pays $35 a game and a go-getter can work two and sometimes three games a night. Applicants must possess physical stamina, a knowledge of the game and the strength of character to endure harassment from coaches at point-blank range.

That's what happened recently to a female referee named Diana, who doesn't want her real name used because "I don't want to get in trouble." A first-year official, she was working a junior varsity girls' game with a male partner. The rest of the world couldn't have cared less about the game's outcome, but the coach of the losing team and his assistant acted as if they'd been given the death penalty for jaywalking.

Immediately after the game, the coaches raced over to Diana, who was getting her coat at the scorer's table. One of them--she's not sure who because she was trying to duck away--viciously berated her, "screaming, and I mean screaming, right in my ear," blaming her for his team's 20-point loss. When she walked away, the coaches began following at her heels, continuing to shout until Diana's partner stepped in and stopped them.

As a woman, Diana says, she feels violated by the incident. "It was easier for them to do it to a woman," she says. "They could have done it to my partner but they didn't." Then she adds, "There was a time in my life I would have cried over something like that, but I've toughened up a lot."

Diana wants to drop the issue--it's hard enough for a woman to survive in the male-dominated field without making enemies--but her partner felt angry enough to write a letter to Dean Crowley, the Southern Section administrator who handles officiating. The intensity of what the partner described as intimidation--"verbal abuse that left her physically threatened"--disturbed Crowley, but he wasn't surprised that an official would be harassed at a prep game.

In Orange County, where Crowley works, coaches and fans have practically declared an open-season on officials. At a game in Fullerton this season, a man came down on the floor after the game and hit an official with a forearm, Crowley says. When the school principal tried to bar the man from attending games, he was told, on advice of counsel, Crowley says, that it's probably not lawful to keep a citizen out of the gym, even a citizen with a propensity for physical violence toward people in striped shirts.

"Officials--men or women--are subjected to much more abuse than ever," Crowley says. "A lot of them are asking, 'Why am I doing this for $35 a game?' As a result, there's a crisis in officiating. We're not seeing the quality we used to get."

Prep basketball officiating has never been a woman's field, even after the rise of girls basketball in the late '70s nearly doubled the openings for officials. Today in the metropolitan area, out of hundreds of officials who are certified by the state to officiate boys' and girls' games, only a few are women.

But not only are women staying away in droves, they're also leaving officiating. "A number of women have dropped out because of stress and the emotional strain of harassment," Crowley says.

Women also believe there is a male bias against them. To become a certified official, one needs to join one of the half-dozen certified associations in the L.A. area--all of them under the jurisdiction of the Southern Section--and do entry-level work at recreational leagues and freshman games. In about two years, if all the reports and rating cards are good, an official moves up to varsity games.

But, "it's an old boy's system," says Roz Goldenberg, head varsity coach at Oakwood High and a former junior college and prep official. "I found a lot of prejudice in the associations when I officiated. I just didn't get the good games. That's why I eventually left."

Of the 180 officials certified to do varsity games for L. A. city schools, about 15 are women. The San Fernando Valley association supplies 125 officials, including five women, to an area that stretches from Brentwood to Glendale. In the Channel Coast Officials Assn., eight of 133 officials are women.

The associations say they want to recruit women. "We haven't done it in the past, but we're going to try to encourage them to join our association," says Ed Baker, who assigns officials in the Valley area.

Ivie Lewis, an official for 17 years, doesn't believe the associations are committed to bringing women into the game. "I used to go to executive council meetings and ask the question, 'How many women do you have?' " she says before answering her own question: "Maybe one, out of all these former girl players who've come out of school in the past 10 years. The associations just don't recruit women."

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