Former UCLA basketball player Anita Ortega knew she wanted to stay connected to the sport she loved even after her playing days were over. She just wasn't sure how.
That's when her friend Robin Cofield told her about a camp for high school officials.
"I went to it, and I loved it," Ortega said. "It gave me the same adrenaline flow I felt as a player."
The rest, as they say, is history. She spent three years working high school games in the Los Angeles area before moving up to the college level. She's now considered one of the top Division I officials, and she said it was never anything she aspired to doing before Cofield suggested it.
"When I was playing, referees were kind of second-class citizens," she said. "Who wanted to be an official? No one likes them. . . . It was totally different once I tried it."
Ortega knows how important it is for current officials to reach out and recruit new officials. The issue of recruiting and retention topped the list of most of those attending a summit of the National Association of Sports Officials this weekend in Salt Lake City. Ortega singled it out as the most critical of eight issues laid during the conference's final session.
The issues singled out as critical were: technology; rule enforcement; game management; public accountability; administrative support; reward structures; game security; recruitment and retention; sportsmanship; and continuing education.
Recruitment and retention, however, was one of the more weighty issues and one that some believe will never really be solved.
"I have serious concern for recruitment and retention," Ortega said, "especially as it relates to women and minorities. . . . There's clearly not enough women who are officiating."
She talked about Cofield and acknowledged that seeing her do the job gave her confidence in her own abilities.
"We've got to have a mentoring program," she said, and then she offered her e-mail address to anyone who needed a little extra support.
"The one that will always be on the board is recruitment and retention," said Ronnie Carter, Tennessee secondary school athletic association executive director and NASO board member. "None of us will ever have an over-abundance of good officials. . . . The ones that will never leave us are sportsmanship and recruiting."
Jerry Bovee, assistant director of the Utah High School Activities Association, said he gathered a lot of helpful information at this year's summit. The theme of this year's event was leadership officiating, and Bovee said many ideas and suggestions discussed at the summit will be discussed in upcoming officials meetings here in Utah.
"The session on verbal judo was one of the best presentations I've ever been to," he said. "It was great."
The summit was meant to recharge attendees and help give them ideas about how to deal with some of the issues facing officials from high school to professional sports.
"What we offer is cross pollination," said Barry Mano, NASO president and founder of Referee magazine. "We have all sports, all levels from all over the country."
He pointed out that the commissioner for the Nevada Boxing Commission was exchanging ideas with women's volleyball officials. Football officials can talk with school administrators, and at the last session some even shared ideas about how to better communicate with and recruit new officials.
"Originally we were all on our separate islands," he said. "Now we get all of those folks coming into the same room and talking about the process of officiating."
In the summit's final session Julie Colwell shared an idea regarding recruiting. She teaches a physical education class that offers high school students the chance to learn how to officiate several sports like softball and basketball.
Ken Calhoun, a high school football, basketball and baseball official, said in his home state of Florida they went to a coach who ran a successful program and recruited more than a dozen of his players to coach little league football games this fall.
Another man suggested that solving game management, game safety and employee reward issues would solve nearly half of any community's recruitment problems . But as panelist Jerry McGee pointed out, sometimes recruiting is the easy part.
"Sometimes people get into it not realizing what's involved," said the ACC football official. "There's's a lot of people that think it's just three hours on Saturday afternoon."Comment on this story
Bovee believes that's one of the problems with retaining officials here in Utah."I don't think it's bad sportsmanship here," he said. "It's all the meetings and training that people don't know you have to do in addition to the games."