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Academy Finals Referee Richonne Clark Shooting for Highest Ranks


Georgia Native and Older Brother of U.S. MNT’s Ricardo Clark Part of Newly Created Platinum Program

Georgia Native and Older Brother of U.S. MNT’s Ricardo Clark Part of Newly Created Platinum Program

With the introduction of the 2012 Platinum Program, U.S. Soccer has chosen a select number of referees who have high potential toward becoming a professional official. Those selected in this inaugural Platinum Program class earn the opportunity to officiate in high-level matches and events, and one person within the program includes 32-year-old Georgia referee Richonne Clark, the older brother of U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Ricardo Clark.

Clark has been officiating during the 2012 Academy Finals Week in Houston, mostly serving as a referee for the U-15/16 games and a fourth official for U-17/18 level. On Friday, July 20, Clark earned his first U-17/18 referee assignment.

Being part of this select Platinum Program group, which consisted of approximately 375 applicants, is something he is not taking lightly.

“I was one of the lucky individuals chosen for this, and I’m just blessed for the opportunity,” Clark said. “It gets you so much exposure to higher-level matches, higher-level training and a lot more instruction than you see in your state.”

Clark has actually officiated since he was 12 years old, refereeing at the local level in Fayette County in Georgia as a way to get some cash on the weekends. But for a long stretch, he hadn’t made a serious effort to work his way up the ladder.

“For about 20 years, I sat on a Grade 8 entry-level refereeing position, and when I moved to Alabama they encouraged me to start upgrading and start making some moves,” Clark said. “I met Alex Prus and George Gansner, and I was like, ‘Man, this is what you do for a living? This is awesome! You get to go to MLS games and FIFA matches?’ I thought this was unbelievable.”

Clark broke away from watching his younger brother in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa to continue honing his officiating craft and maintain his involvement within the sport.

“I want to go all the way,” Clark said. “I was inspired by being able to see my brother when he was in South Africa, went for one game and had to leave early to come to the Region III Regionals. I had already made a prior commitment, and at Regionals I learned a lot. This is something I want to strive for, and who knows if it’s possible. I’m going to put in the work and see what happens.”

Clark missed out on the Academy Playoffs in Frisco, Texas, because of the birth of his first-born daughter with wife Hope Clark, a women’s soccer coach at Georgia College. But he has immersed himself within the Academy Finals Week experience, saying how this has been a strong learning tool toward his officiating development.

“It’s been a very educational experience,” Clark said. “The U.S. Soccer referee instruction has been top-notch. We’re critiquing everything that we do on video and you’re constantly learning. It’s not like when you go home and you do games and leave it having an idea of what things you need to work on. With this instruction, you never miss out on what you need to work on, which is great. It’s great to get feedback and see yourself so you can change those mistakes that you may make in games.”

Clark has been involved in soccer since an early age, eventually starring for Clayton State University’s squad. The rapport among everyone involved, whether he is playing or officiating, is something that came naturally to him.

“I’ve embraced the game since I was born and started playing when I was 4,” Clark said. “I like dealing with people. You’re going to see 22 players and about five different coaches every single time you step on the field, different personalities. I like being a part of the drama and the controversy. I’m not one that fears failure, either, so I love being a part of the game in any way possible.”

As for his officiating style, he describes his approach simply by playing the role of constant communicator.

“I’m a pretty laid back person, but I’m going to communicate with the players as much as possible to keep them in the game,” Clark said. “Of course there are times where they’re going to tie your hands, but for the most part, if you stay in their ear and let them know you see what they’re doing and things that are happening off the ball, you can manage the game and do a good job.

“I think being a player for many years enables you to anticipate what players are going to do in certain situations and it allows you to manage the game in that manner,” Clark said. “Everybody’s personality is different, but players usually react the same way to certain situations. If you can try to stay one step ahead of that, you can deal with issues as they come at an appropriate level. It’s fun, and I enjoy the different personalities every single day.”

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