For Kevin Purell, becoming a referee started with a simple invitation.
“My kids were in AYSO soccer and I was an exuberant parent,” he said.
One Saturday morning, Purell was standing on the sidelines passionately giving his children directions when the referee approached him. Instead of reacting negatively, she saw his potential. Since the coach was doing his job well, she told Purell she thought he might be interested in referee training — so he could still be part of the action.
“Eventually, I learned the referee’s name was Joy Memmer, and now she is one of my mentors,” Purell said.
Purell has been refereeing for soccer ever since his encounter with Memmer. Not only has he been officiating for the past eight years for high school, college, the American Youth Soccer Organization and for the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association, but he now is also a referee trainer.
“You have to have a love of the game,” Purell said.
For all levels of sports on the island – soccer, football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, cross-country, rugby and many others – there needs to be an official to evaluate the play, keep athletes safe and help interpret rules.
Most officials take up the whistle after either being a volunteer parent like Purell, an athlete or an avid fan that likes getting a little closer to the action. Though AYSO referees are all volunteers, HYSA referees are paid a nominal fee, as well as are officials at the high school and college level. After paying for gas, travel, and time, officiating is far from a lucrative business.
“They do it for the love of the game,” Purell said of Hawaii Island officials.
Purell said that referees who officiate at the high school and college levels have to have stronger personalities, must be physically fit and should have experience. Referees have to be trained, pass tests and other assessments, and attend ongoing training to improve their work. They also review YouTube videos of plays and analyze calls.
Purell one of his favorite aspects of officiating that makes all of the trainings worthwhile is seeing young athletes develop.
“We are at the ground level of what are going to be great players one day,” Purell said. “We are enjoying them at their level. We see them grow and their skills improve – that is just pure enjoyment.”
Daniel Thiebaut of Waikoloa has been refereeing for about 24 years.
“My two sons were playing and I started to coach them first, then one thing led to another,” Thiebaut said.
Thiebaut said that after he officiated, he looked at the game differently.
“I became a better coach when I was refereeing,” Thiebaut said.
He said to be a good referee, it is important to be in shape and have the stamina to keep up with high school players.
“To be physically ready for the game, you have to do it yourself … you have to keep in good shape,” he said. “When you are refereeing, you need to be there, at the spot you are supposed to be.”
He said that to prepare, he stretches, walks and does some beach running. He said he also improves, as do the other officials, through the written tests and assessments. Thiebaut said with his love of soccer, he watches any game, any time, and he even pulls over and stays when he’s driving by a game. He likes having the opportunity to be in the game if not as a player, then as an official.
“Refereeing is the best spot to see the game,” Thiebaut said.
Joyce Louden of Honokaa has also been refereeing since her children were young. She started with AYSO, and she has officiated at both the high school and college level.
“Through AYSO, my kids were playing and the coach said we need someone to go to a clinic,” Louden said. “I volunteered to carry the flag.”
She said that there are few women referees, but she hopes to see more volunteer.
“AYSO does a good job of training refs,” Louden said. “I felt confident, and that is all you need to do is to be confident and get over your mistakes fast.”
“It is a tough job in some ways, but it is rewarding to be the arbiter of the laws of soccer,” she added.
Boyd and Allen Bond from Kohala are a father and son refereeing team for high school soccer that usually officiate together. Boyd Bond has been refereeing for more than 35 years.
“In AYSO in the early days, all of the coaches were asked to referee after their games,” Boyd Bond said.
He said he once went to lodge a complaint, and they told him that if he thought he could do better, he should volunteer to officiate.
“It was taking a dare, but once I got into it, I really liked it,” he said. “Other sports have rules – soccer has laws. You just don’t break certain things.”
He went from AYSO to officiating high school, men’s and women’s leagues, and premiere, Honolulu Youth Soccer Association. He also was certified in Honolulu for college officiating.
“I like refereeing because it keeps me close to the game,” Boyd Bond said.
As a soccer player and a former coach, he said refereeing also helped him to improve his coaching.
“I encourage coaches to take the referee test even if they never pick up a whistle,” said Bond.
He said he also likes spending time with his fellow referees during trainings and games.
“We have all kinds of people (that are referees) – car salesmen, teachers, judges,” he said. “They come in because they have kids in the game or they were players and they wanted to get involved. They are an enjoyable bunch.”
Allen Bond, 18, has been refereeing soccer for the past five years, though he only graduated from Parker High School last year. He started officiating during his second year of U14 and has been doing it ever since.
“Being on the other end of the whistle is the natural change,” Allen Bond said.
He said being a referee has helped him as a player.
“It helps you see flow of play from a different angle,” he said. “You get to see the tactics a lot better.”
He said he has enjoyed officiating the games with his father, and they often discuss play highlights on their drive back home after the game.
“It is a great mentoring opportunity, and it made the transition easier, “ he said.
“Also, it’s free transportation,” he joked.
Lyle Cabacungan of Waikoloa, has been officiated for more than 35 years. He not only officiated for boys and girls soccer, but girls and boys basketball, football and baseball, and girls softball as well, and at all levels. He also travels to Oahu to officiate tournaments.
Cabacungan said he has five criteria for being an official: appearance, knowledge, philosophy, judgment and communication.
“I am always fair as an official,” he said.
He said with officiating at multiple sports, it is important to know who you are working with and to trust your partners, especially in sports like soccer that require three referees per game.
He said if there is any confrontation, he relies on good communication skills and a peaceful demeanor to defuse the situation.
“You need to bring your calmness to him (a coach or player) and you have a conversation in that way,” he said.
Cabacungan said that he doesn’t have a problem when fans, coaches or players criticize a call he makes.
“Whatever call you make, 50 percent of the people are going to love you and 50 percent are going to hate you,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me as long as I do my best and I don’t have that (booing) influence my decisions.”
He said the most important aspect of the game is “sportsmanship at all times.”
“The players’ attitude reflects the coaches’ attitude toward the official,” Cabacungan said.
He said his philosophy when officiating is to focus on the safety of the athletes, to uphold the honesty of the game and to communicate with the players, coaches and other referees in the best way possible. He said if there are any mistakes, he believes the best thing is to admit them and correct them the next time.
“You want to walk off the field or court at the end of the game and know you did the your best out there,” Cabacungan said.
To become a soccer referee, training classes are now available for the upcoming season. An AYSO 403 North Hawaii Basic Referee Class is this Saturday, Jan. 11, in Waimea. To register or for more information, email everyoneREFS@icloud.com.
There is also a referee training class for AYSO 274 Hilo this Sunday, Jan. 12 in Hilo. For more information or to register, contact Sean Knell, at 345-6162. For AYSO 527 referee training classes in Kona, contact Cara Altamirano at email@example.com. A two-day United States Soccer Federation Grade 8 Introductory Class is Feb. 22 and 23 in Waimea. For more information, contact V. Laporta at firstname.lastname@example.org. The locations for all training classes are still to be determined.