February 3, 2011 |

Referee Clay fits the mold

Haines was under its basket, struggling to make a comeback in the third quarter of Saturday’s boys’ varsity basketball game against the Craig Panthers when the ball was knocked out of bounds.

To some, it looked like a Craig player had deflected the ball. But referee Samantha Clay made the call against Haines.

Jason Shull, who plays on adult hoops teams and whose seat in the stands was close to the play, had a view of the action. He said Clay made the right call. "It was a quick, double-tip. It easily could have been called out on the defense. It was a hard call to make in front of the home crowd," he said.

Clay is believed to be the first woman to referee a varsity boys’ game in Haines.

A 19-year-old Haines High School graduate who has played the game since she was nine, Clay started refereeing varsity girls’ games here in January 2010. She was encouraged to try it by school activities director Tiana Taylor.

Clay had already done some coaching, timekeeping and scorekeeping, but still she was apprehensive. "I was reluctant because refs aren’t always crowd-pleasers or coach-pleasers," Clay said in an interview. But she also had some personal motivation.

"I promised myself when I came back here (from a stint in college), I’d stay a productive member of the community. I couldn’t coach because we have coaches," Clay said.

Before her first game last year, Clay said she was "super nervous" about making good calls and not being a "homer," a derisive name given to refs who make calls favoring the home team.

"I got out there and I fell right into it. I moved wherever I needed to be to make the call," she said.

Panthers’ coach Fred Hamilton said Clay did well in her debut. "I thought she was as good as the other refs on the floor. She was in control and confident in her calls, which is what a ref should be."

Clay said she feels at home on the court and is mindful of the kind of refereeing she complained about as a player. She tries to steer a middle line and also enjoys helping players learn the game. "When I give a foul to a JV play, I try to tell them (what they did wrong). The educational part of the game is something I’m really interested in."

Good refereeing, she said, requires a keen focus on play, but also a respect for the sport. "You can’t let your own personal biases affect the outcome of the game. You have to be assertive. If you’re a ref, you’ve got to be confident in the calls you make."

Clay said she hasn’t been yelled at by fans – much. That might be because she’s a woman, she said. "As much as I’d like that not to be the case, it very well may be. But I don’t let other people’s opinions affect me too much. Regardless of what you do, somebody’s not going to like it when you make a call. You’ll never please anyone. It’s like everything else in life."

Fellow referees have been very supportive, as have coaches, including girls varsity’ coach Brian Elliott, who was her coach just two years ago. "It helps that I’m not surrounded by a lot of people who don’t have experience."

Being a groundbreaker isn’t uncomfortable, either, she said. "I love being the only girl out there, not because I like to feel control or power, but because that’s something you don’t see today. Women don’t get to ref men’s games. And I feel very honored getting to ref in the gym I played high school basketball in."

"Reffing is completely and totally fun for me. I didn’t think that was going to be the case," she said.

Clay works at a local coffee shop. She plays on men’s teams and has twice won the three-point shooting contest at the annual Dick Hotch Tournament. She said she has given thought to pursuing refereeing at a higher level, perhaps even college ball.

"It’s just fun to use my knowledge of the game to help the school and I’m confident in the fact that I can play my part as an official," Clay said.