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An Interview with Mary Warner

As part of our continuing effort to service and educate our membership, each Thursday the U.S. Soccer Communications Center will send out an informative article from one of its departments. Once a week, we will post an article/paper/essay that will hopefully enhance your enjoyment and knowledge of the game of soccer - on and off the field. From the intricacies of the fourth official's duties to caring for your body after a 90-minute match to how a coach should handle his/her players, these articles are selected by U.S. Soccer officials and geared to the fans, players, coaches, administrators and referees of this beautiful game.

Today, learn more about one of the true referee pioneers - Mary Warner. Warner was one of the first female referee to be  registered with U.S. Soccer.  Today, at age 73, she still referees.

Earlier this year, WUSA Referee of the Year Sandra Hunt interviewed Mary Warner.  Below is the interview that one of the world's top female referees conducted with one of the world's first female referees.

Mary Warner

DOB: May 8, 1928
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Family: Married, 2 children
1st Registered: June, 1970
Highest Grade: R1 (highest grade available at the time)
Current Grade: 08
Current Position: Area Administrator for local Referee Committee
Profession: Assistant to Director of Marketing, Dallas Museum of Natural History 

Sandra Hunt: How did your participation as a referee evolve?
Mary Warner: There was a shortage of referees. We had lived in Colombia for a few years and got to know the game there. Our son was involved as a player when we returned to Texas.  We served as President, Secretary, Youth Commissioner, most every position with the local youth club. There was no referee test from the Federation at that time. Our North Texas Referees Society had their own test to certify referees.  I took that to get started. You had to know all the laws by heart. All the duties and responsibilities, penal and technical fouls to pass the test. After I passed the test someone called the Federation to see about registering me. They were very concerned. Concerned I might cause a fuss if they didn’t register me, and what might happen if they did. As it turned out, no one really cared that a woman was registered as a referee. They just really needed more referees.

SH: Did you have any personal mentors?
MW: Oh yes. Bob Evans, Ed Bellion and my neighbor, Jim Finger.

SH: Did you set any personal goals with your refereeing?
MW: Not really, my services were needed by my community. Refereeing was something I needed to do, wanted to do. I just wanted to fill a need in my community.

SH: Any memorable games or tournaments?
MW: I attended the 1st Southern Region Playoffs in New Orleans and the 2nd and 3rd as well.

SH: What is your reputation with players and coaches?
MW: I would say I am a “teacher referee.”  I try to encourage them. Help them see more of the game. I probably talk to players too much. But most of the time they find out what I am suggesting to them was working out better for them. The players are appreciative. I get along well with them. Parents don’t give me any trouble. I don’t let them take the game away from the kids, I get on ‘em.

SH: What sports did athletic women participate in during the 60’s and 70's?
MW: Softball, tennis, basketball, but not with today’s rules. Women could only play half court basketball then. I was a swimmer. I tried out for the Olympic team as a freestyler, backstroker, and relay.

SH: What sort of fitness training schedule did you follow?
MW: Swimming, biking, walking, jogging.  I used to think the women should have different fitness standards, but not anymore. The standards are very difficult for women, not unfair, just more difficult. But if it’s important to you, you will do it.  Players are much more fit and referees need to be very fit. I think the sprints are overrated. Good referees have the ability to read the game and don’t need to sprint all that often.

SH: What was the reaction of other women to you refereeing?
MW: They were glad they didn’t have to. Really, no one seemed to mind.

SH: How has being a Referee affected the rest of your life?
MW: The time working with other people in associations and organizations has made me much better able to work with others from all backgrounds. I am much healthier from the regular exercise I get.  Most of my good friends are from soccer.

SH:  Any Regrets?
MW:  No… Nope. I don’t have any regrets. It has been a wonderful experience every Saturday. I still read the Laws of the Game every Friday night to get set for the games.

SH: In your opinion, what are the best changes in the game from the '70s?
1. The language used in the Laws of the Game is much easier to understand now. Years ago it was “British English” and the meanings and interpretations weren’t always clear.
2. Offside changes have been really good for the game. It’s much more exciting now.
3. Tackling from behind and Persistent Infringement being dealt with more strictly.  I remember the 1960 World Cup.  What they did to Pele was terrible.  It wasn’t a soccer game, it was out and out mayhem. Very destructive.
4. AR’s now are specialists and I think it’s been very good for the game. It seems years ago that there were more instances of the AR getting the Referee into trouble he couldn’t get out of.

SH: Which has been the toughest law change for you to adapt to?
MW: The Offside decision. “Even is on.” Before it was a very different mind set. It’s better now with the new interpretation.

SH: What is your advice for new referees knowing what you know now?
MW: Don’t ever give up. Every game is a contribution. When you have a bad game, tomorrow’s will be better.

SH: Okay Mary, now it’s time for some word association if you don’t mind… AR or Referee?
MW: Referee because the referee is never wrong. (laughing)

SH: Send Off or no Send Off?
MW: Send Off.  Many a game has been saved by a sending off.  Especially the coach.

SH: Black, Yellow or Red (referee uniform shirt)?
MW: Black. Authority color, like a judge.

SH: PK or Play on?

SH: Frank Sinatra or Cary Grant?
MW: Oh, Cary Grant.

SH: Steve Allen or Johnny Carson?
MW: We loved Johnny Carson.

SH: Favorite Player?
MW: Carlos Valderrama.  He’s so efficient.

SH: Favorite Tournament?
MW: Dallas Cup.

SH: Favorite Team?
MW: Dallas Burn.

SH: Favorite Postgame Food?
MW: A cold beer.

SH: Mary, for you, what’s the best “thing” about refereeing?
MW: Seeing folks like U6’s and U8’s that can see the game.  Watching them improve their skills and learning to love the game.

SH: What keeps you coming back?
MW: The people I have met along the way. It is such a pleasure to work with the people in soccer. It’s a wonderful game. Anyone can play. Seeing everyone support the game. I never would have believed women would have a professional league like WUSA and that folks would support not only a men’s league, but a women’s league too.

For more information, please contact Carol McGuire, U.S. Soccer's Referee Programs Manager.  Carol can be reached at, or 312-528-1241.