U.S. Soccer and FIFA Referee Sandra Hunt Officiates Final Game of Illustrious Career
U.S. WNT Win Over Ireland in Chicago Concludes 17 Years as U.S. Soccer Referee; Hunt Will Become A FIFA Instructor-Assessor and One of 11 Futuro Course Instructors
CHICAGO (October 22, 2004) – Three sharp blasts of the referee’s whistle on Wednesday (Oct. 20) signaled the end of the U.S. Women’s National Team 5-1 victory over Ireland at Soldier Field in Chicago. The whistle also signaled the end of a cycle for FIFA referee Sandra Hunt.
Hunt has represented the United States on the international level as a FIFA-sanctioned referee since 1999. Her career as a U.S. Soccer referee began in 1987, after a frustrating encounter with an official during a game as a player. After 17 years of officiating, Hunt will take on a new role as an instructor-assessor, beginning at the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in Thailand in November.
Hunt describes her retirement as being “in good company” as she exits the international stage at the same time as Women’s National Team stars Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Mia Hamm.
During her time as a referee, Hunt has officiated the opening game of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, participated in the 2001 Asian Women’s Championship, been a fourth official at the 2003 Women’s World Cup and was named top referee of the 2003 Four Nations Tournament in China. Hunt was also a referee in the WUSA and MLS. She was one of the first two women to referee an MLS game when she officiated a game in Kansas City while Nancy Lay simultaneously refereed in Dallas.
Prior to the “Fan Celebration Tour” game in Chicago on Wednesday night, ussoccer.com was able to sit down with Hunt and learn a little bit about her experience as the woman in the middle, what is next for her after retirement and how she balances family life with the rigorous work of being a referee.
Name: Sandra Hunt
Hometown: Bellingham, Washington
First Year as a Referee: 1987
First Year as a FIFA Referee: 1999
What made you decide to become a referee?
“I played in college and beyond that in the amateur leagues. The main reason I got involved was because I had made a comment to a referee. There was one game in particular where things were a little bit rough and tumble and I made a comment to a referee, something about I could do a better job with my eyes closed. He invited me to try. In just sort of a fit of anger I said, ‘Fine, I’m going to do it.’ And my teammates said, ‘Oh you should do it,’ and the people we were playing against, our opponents in that game, said, ‘You should. You’d be a lot better than him.’ It was the kind of game where everyone was mad and you just left with a bad feeling. So I went through the course and got out there and realized it wasn’t as easy as it looks. Particularly from a player’s perspective. It was so challenging. Every game, there were different situations that you had to figure out a way to balance and make it fair for the players and at the same time trying to keep it fun for everybody. I just enjoy that challenge. And as you gain experience you become a little bit more confident about what you’re doing. With the increased confidence you get in faster games, it’s a little bit more fun and all of a sudden you’re just involved in it. And when things go smoothly, you leave with a really good feeling. When things don’t go smoothly I always left thinking I could do better than that next time or I’m going to do better. So it’s just a personal challenge.”
You just went to Spain, correct? How was that?
“It was for the Futuro instruction course. It’s for the new FIFA instructors. There are now only 11 in the world, and only two are women. Both Esse Barharmast (U.S. Soccer’s Director of Advanced and International Referee Development) and I from the United States are involved. We went to Spain for the introduction of the Futuro material to be the Futuro instructors. It was really interesting. We spent about half the day in class and half the day on-field doing some practical sessions and actually doing instruction of the material from the morning sessions.”
So were you teaching people or learning how to teach?
“Both. In the morning we reviewed all the material and talked about different teaching styles and then, in pairs, in the evenings we would organize our material to teach the next day. The people that we were teaching were the other instructors. We were given a topic and had to teach for one hour, a practical session, involving that topic. The Futuro course is about teaching the teachers. So, the Futuro instructors, like myself, our job is to go and teach at Futuro courses, the national instructors from other nations. In a Futuro course, up to three instructors from different countries go to a site, like I just got back from the Bahamas last week. There was a course there. It was a CONCACAF course. We had 28 participants from 11 different countries and they come and spend a week and we go over all the material in class and, again, we spend about half the day out on the field and they are doing the practical sessions. It mirrors what we did in Spain.”
How about your family? How do you balance being a FIFA ref with having a family?
“I have to give all the credit to my husband for hanging in there while I’ve been gone. He’s been extremely supportive. Our two eldest sons are in college. My son Kris, he’s 22 and he’s a senior at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. He plays golf there. My other son who is 19, he’s Griffin, and he’s at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz. He’s training to become a pilot and he plays soccer at the university. We just have our daughter who is still at home. Heidi is 14 and she is a freshman in high school. She’s playing soccer for her school. Between the boys and Jeff, and also the cooperation from Heidi, everybody just sort of pitched in all the way along and picked up the slack at home and I was able to do that. Without having my husband’s support it would have been impossible.”
Do you kids ever get teased because their mom is a ref?
“They’re a little tired of hearing people say, ‘I saw your mom on TV,’ yeah.”
Have you ever challenged anyone else who came up to you and said he/she could do a better job?
“Oh yeah. Not lately, but when I was first getting started. Most of the people in the Seattle area, I knew or they knew me and at the end they’d come over or say something during the game. You knew them so you’d say, ‘It’s not that easy, you should try this.’ Most people’s response to that, even now, is, ‘No. I wouldn’t want to do what you do for all the tea in China.’ Refereeing maybe doesn’t appeal to everyone. It’s just not something that everyone is going to want to do.”
Do you remember your first FIFA assignment?
“One of my first FIFA assignments was a match in Florida. I met a young man who wanted to come and watch the game and he was with a program like Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was there to go to Disney World and he came to the game. It was USA vs. Portugal, women, in Florida, and it was in 1999. That was probably one of the most memorable experiences. After that we went to dinner with him and his family and I have stayed in touch with him since that time. He’s hanging in there, he’s doing pretty well and that is probably the most memorable first game you can have.”
How has being a referee changed over the years?
“I think the law changes for the most part that come out of FIFA are intended to speed the game up and make attacking soccer more prevalent, which I think makes for a more enjoyable game for people to watch. The law changes that have come of late, I’m in favor of. They favor attacking soccer. They try to keep the game moving, which I think is the way players want to play. From that standpoint, the law changes I think have all been for the betterment of the game. How has the game changed? The players have been, every year, so much better. The young players that I have seen in the past five years and the young players that you see, and I mean from many different countries not just the United States, are unbelievable talented. The quality of the athletes that are playing soccer taken the past ten years, the difference is night and day. I see kids that years ago would have only played football or basketball and now they’re sticking with soccer as a first-choice sport. The quality is getting better and better and it’s really fun to watch.”
What do you like best about being a referee?
“This kind of combines with your previous question. What I’ve gotten the most out of being a referee and the thing I like best is the association with other people involved in soccer, but primarily with refereeing. The people who are in the referee family and the U.S. Soccer family and then, of course, the worldwide soccer family, are by and large just fantastic human beings and individuals. I think that they’ve contributed towards my efforts toward becoming a better person too.”
What’s your least favorite part of being a ref?
“My least favorite part of being a referee, probably other than travel which takes me away from would be dealing with people who are understandably upset about a decision and having to make decisions that just sort of seem unfair at the time, but by the law you don’t have any options. You must penalize it in a certain way. As a player you understand their anger, but as a referee I have a duty that I have to carry out and a responsibility to the game. So I guess that’s the frustrating part, that you can’t just stop and say, ‘Look, this is what I have to do.’ You just have to make that decision. Everybody understands it but it’s not popular.”
What is your most memorable moment as a referee?
“Boy, I tell you, that's tough. The game that I mentioned earlier, the US-Portugal game with the young man that was there, that was certainly a memorable experience. Doing the opening game at the Sydney Olympics was a terrific atmosphere, a real honor. It’s nice to be able to do those kind of games and then World Cup appointments, and they go smoothly and everything works out well and you represent the United States and you can leave there feeling that you represented everybody that’s been so supportive of you very well. I don’t know that I can give you one game that was really memorable, though the experiences are what stay with you and the people associated with them, for me, are what I would have to say. Working with so many dedicated people all the way through in the games, the other referees and the administrators and the volunteers. At a big game or a professional game there are so many people who volunteer their time to come in and help with the team week after week and most people never get a chance to see them. And what they do for the sport is just unbelievable. And to be able to work with the other folks, the referees assistants and the administrators and the assessors who come week after week for pretty much the love of the sport, and the instructors, those people that support the game, that is probably the most memorable for me.”
Are you going to the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in Thailand?
“Yes, as an instructor-assessor.”
Have you ever gone to a tournament as an instructor-assessor before?
“No, not like that. Not at an international tournament. This is a first appointment. Because I’m just retiring as an international referee, I’ve just been appointed as a FIFA instructor. This is the first option I have because I’m coming off of the active list.”
As you move on to the next step, from being a referee to being an instructor-assessor, are you excited or nervous?
“I’m delighted. Ultimately this is what I really wanted to do, to be an instructor, a match inspector or assessor. I enjoy, like I said before, the interaction with other people and mentoring the other referees who aspire to get on the international panel of referees or assistants or the national referee list here in the United States. I really enjoy the mentoring and the instruction and the assessing that goes along with that and moving other people up along the continuum.”
What advice would you give to young referees or people who are considering becoming a referee?
“I think that the one thing I can tell people is, ‘You only get better with experience.’ Unfortunately you have to dip your toe in the water to get a little bit of experience. This is where assignors come in the picture. When we start someone out as a young, entry-level referee, whether they’re 15-years-old or 25 or 35, first-year people need an opportunity to experience some success with refereeing and we don’t have enough referees. We have 140,000 referees in the United States but we don’t have enough referees and this is common all over the world, no matter what size the country is that you’re speaking of. So we are trying to actively recruit referees from the player pool in the United States because those people have, already, playing experience and that goes a long way towards gaining some success. Recognizing when players are upset or why they are upset helps a lot to keep people involved as referees. But again going back to the assignors, making sure that the assignments are equivalent to someone’s experience level is important and when we’re so short handed in referees, sometimes people get pushed along a little bit too quickly and get on to games. So just get in there, meeting some people that you can work with and continuing to just knock the games out a little bit at a time. Maybe do a couple a weekend or three or four a month, and stay at a level you’re comfortable at and then move into the next level when you’re ready. It’s a great way to meet some people who are involved with soccer and it’s a great way for young players to get to learn the laws of the game and how they should be applied into the game. It offers another opportunity for people who want to be involved in the game of soccer but maybe they’re no longer able to play at the level they wanted to play at. We can take that playing experience from someone who maybe is not going to continue to play at the level they used to and we can turn that into a real plus for the players who are coming along behind them and the program, at large, by encouraging them to consider refereeing.”
What is the biggest myth people have about referees?
“That we don’t care about the calls we make and how it affects players or the game or that we just show up, do the game and we really don’t care how it all turns out. I have yet to meet someone who referees that goes out there with that attitude. Somebody who went out there with that attitude just wouldn’t last. People who last as referees really care about the game and the players that they are refereeing. Not that they don’t want to make difficult calls, that’s not what I’m saying, but that they want to go out there and do a good job. They want to enhance the game and the experience for the players and coaches and fans, not be a distraction from the game.”
Is there anything you would like to add?
“If I was going to add anything else I would tell you how grateful I am to U.S. Soccer for their support through the years. It’s been terrific and I’m looking forward to having a long term commitment to give back to the game at all the levels that I can and that I’m able.”