Referee Orientation is just one step in the ongoing training process

Officials Return to the Classroom

May 8 - WNBA players aren't the only ones getting back into game shape this month. Even though many work all year long, the preseason is also a time for WNBA officials to get back into the swing of things.

Prior to the start of preseason games, the 2006 WNBA Officiating Staff tipped-off the 10th anniversary season at referee orientation in Jersey City, New Jersey. The three-day camp was mandatory for all 32 WNBA officials working this season and was conducted by Wade Morehead (Senior Director of Basketball Operations), Joe Borgia (NBA Director of Officiating Programs & Development), Dee Kantner (WNBA Supervisor of Officials) and Tom Tedesco (Senior Manager of Basketball Operations).

Dee Kantner goes through video clip during orientation training.
T. Tedesco/WNBA Images
Over the course of the three-day camp, the staff evaluated game footage, and tested (written, video, and discussion) in all aspects of the rule book, case book, and officials manual. Additionally, the officials performed role-playing exercises in a continued effort to improve on-court communications between players, coaches, and officials.

Specifically, discussion points included 2006 expectations, rule changes, points of emphasis, instant replay, and general floor positioning. Again, video tape sessions focused on this season's points of emphasis, including but not limited to: block/charge concepts, post play, traveling and freedom of movement concepts. Game footage also featured forearm interpretations, continuation plays, screens, discontinued dribbles, flagrant fouls and dead ball officiating.

Just so there is no confusion, all teams also receive a copy of the WNBA Officials' points of emphasis video for the 2006 WNBA Season. Over 25 plays have been provided on disc and an explanation for each play provided by the League.

"Our primary mission is to train and educate consistently year-round," Morehead said. "Referee orientation is just one of the many ways we are constantly working with our officials to equip them with the necessary tools to manage the game in order to provide the best product to our fans. "

Officials not only have to be savvy on the court, but also with a keyboard and mouse. All 32 officials receive extensive computer training to assure that each official can maximize the training tools featured on the WNBA Officials Interactive Website (OIW). This web-based program (the same one the NBA uses) that allows the league to communicate regularly with the staff through this 24/7 virtual conference room. Memos and League updates are posted, in addition to web-plays and weekly tests. All game and observer reports are filed on the site for the supervisors to review in a timely manner. Officials will be capable of posting questions on the site, and on-site attendance can be monitored by league supervisor's to assure full participation.

Officials stay up-to-date with thanks to technology.
T. Tedesco/WNBA Images

So how does someone become a WNBA official? It's not easy. Referees are extensively scouted at numerous women's NCAA conference tournaments, as well as several men's NCAA tournaments. League administrative staff also scout summer camps to identify talented officials, who are then invited to NBA summer camps for further training and evaluation. Those identified as prospective WNBA officials are then hired to officiate in the D-League.

The WNBA then utilizes its annual Pre-Draft Camp for final evaluations before hiring new officials. Of the eight officials invited this year, two were hired as full-time staff members.

(Drumrollllllllllll...) Welcome aboard, Keith Kimble and Angelica Suffren! Both have D-League officiating experience and numerous years at the college level.

On the flipside of these rookies, the WNBA also has an impressive trio of ten-year veterans. These are the refs around long enough to remember Tina Thompson and Temecka Dixon's rookie seasons, Nancy Lieberman and Rebecca Lobo on the court (not just at the broadcaster table) and Cynthia Cooper first raising the roof. June Courteau, Lisa Mattingly, and Bob Trammell were also recognized and honored at orientation.

There is even a new mentor program to improve and develop the staff as a whole. A more experienced referee is paired with another official, and the two will regularly meet and will periodically work together throughout the season.

From L to R: Tom Tedesco, June Corteau, Bob Trammell, Lisa Mattingly, Wade Morehead, Dee Kantner.
T. Tedesco/WNBA Images

But officiating would not work if teams and players were not familiar with the officials and the league staff to fully understand how the games are called. During the pre-season, every WNBA team will have a special clinic designed to give players and coaches the opportunity to ask questions regarding rules so all parties are on the same page regarding interpretations and enforcement. These clinics will be conducted by either Kantner, Borgia, or a WNBA Official and will cover a variety of topics, including clarifications of rules associated with the changes implemented during the off-season.

"The primary goal of our clinics is to assure that the coaches, players and officials are all familiar with the verbage and interpretations of our current and existing rules," Morehead explained. "A secondary benefit is that it provides us with another opportunity to enhance the relationship between these groups for a more professional atmosphere on the court."

Rules may be black and white, but the interpretation and enforcement of those rules are as gray as the uniforms that officials wear. That is why ongoing training and feedback is so important for the league.