Where are we now? [LINK to Emily’s personal blog]

Hi everyone!

Emily here. As our 2014-2015 cycle of the Don Morrison Scholarship comes to a close, I’d like to point you to my personal blog where I’ve continued to share my experiences about our time training at the referee academy in South Africa. The website is updated weekly and there are lots of pictures, resources, and stories to enjoy! Recently I’ve been focused on building out the “virtual academy“, where I bring the referee academy experience to you!

I am also sharing my Don Morrison Scholarship experiences and talking about how the lessons I learned abroad have translated to my life back here in America at the National Development Summit on January 24 in Chicago. Even if you can’t catch my presentation be sure to say hi :) The presentation will be available on my website afterward as well. Thanks everyone for the continued support and I hope you have a wonderful 2015 of rugby! Best wishes for the next Shanagher Morrison Scholarship winners too!


Maties Kids 2014

From left to right: Clayton, Emily, Kahlil, Evan (<– all of us from USA!), Ryan, and Geoff


Posted in 2014, Rugby, South Africa | Leave a comment

Personnel Reflections

When I look back at my unbelievable two month trip to South Africa it is difficult to choose one aspect that stands out above the rest.  I ate good food, enjoyed beautiful scenery, was exposed to quality rugby, and grew more as a referee in a short amount of time than I could have imagined.  The one thing that influenced me the most, however, would be the four refs that were with me at the academy.  For nine weeks I spent most of my waking hours with those guys, and gal, training, eating, taking exams, refereeing, and just relaxing together.  They grew on me.

I arrived at the house on Cluver Street at about midnight.  Everyone was asleep and, of course, a bit sluggish to come out and meet me.


Geoff is the first Zimbabwean I have ever met and he is White so that was strange.  At the time, he was Evan’s roommate and was more lively after being woken in the middle of the night, and his parting words before returning to bed were advising me that the water is safe to drink.  Up until that point I had not thought to question the water but I wasn’t too worried either way.  Within a few days – probably the very next day – I found out that Geoff was the partier of the group.  If memory serves, he went out every Saturday night for the previous five or six weekends before I arrived.  In fact, during my nine weeks in Stellenbosch there were only two, maybe three, Saturdays when he did not got out.  He is 19, away from home for the first time, and in a college town so that sounds like standard operating procedure to me.

Having never met a Zimbabwean before, much of our time together was him telling me about his country, which he did not seem to mind. He regaled me, and whoever else was listening, with stories of the three bars in all of Harare, the three Lamborghinis in all of Zimbabwe, and the interesting financial situation in 2008.  For me, tales of Zim’s currency  was the most mind boggling topic because I could not, and still cannot, fathom purchasing a loaf of bread and gallon of milk for trillions of dollars.  Even now, when I have a $20 trillion note in my possession, I am still amazed by the situation back then.  Currently the unofficial official currency of Zim is the US dollar.

In my opinion, Geoff is Evan’s primary nemesis.  Their law discussions were always the most passionate (Geoff is absurdly technical while Evan says “play on”), Geoff would often be a step faster with speed/agility, Geoff had the best score on Evan’s machine in the vision lab, and Geoff was always right on Evan’s tail with Evan’s best machine.  I don’t think Geoff was as concerned with being right behind Evan in certain things as Evan was concerned with being right behind Geoff.  Geoff did, however, sit back and enjoy the ride as Evan became grouchy not just because of hunger or lack of sleep, but also because of losing to Geoff.

The best thing Geoff did for himself was convincing a nice young lady named Georgina to call him boyfriend.  Georgie is attending culinary school and whenever she visited from Cape Town, she made the house smell great.  Since meeting her, Geoff has learned terms like caramelization and roux, he now appreciates fine wine and brandy, and even picked up some domestic habits like washing dishes and keeping his room somewhat tidy.  Anyone that meets Georgie, including myself, advises him to not mess up this situation that is not necessarily good for her but is great for him.


Ryan, the lone South African, was the youngest of the group and the smallest of the guys (and only barely heavier than the girl).  Since he was my roommate, he helped me the most in the beginning with knowing where we were going, when we were leaving, what to bring, etc.  When I arrived and started to unpack my bags that first night, I thought he was going to return to sleep since I did, after all, wake him up.  Instead, he stayed up while I sorted out my area and we chatted about where we were from and how we got to be where we were.  I appreciated that he resisted drifting back to sleep for those few minutes.

Since Ryan was the only one with a car, he was forced to shuttle us around at times.  We walked to and from training in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, and dinner in the evening, and Hendrik or Marius (our coaches) would drive us to and from games so those events were never an issue.  Ryan would, however, drive us to drop off our laundry, to the mall, or anywhere on a rainy day.  On some days, we would be running late or just be feeling lazy and someone, usually Evan, would request Ryan’s vehicular services.  Ryan usually refused at first, but Evan would soften him up and Ryan would give in.  Those were always good days because, while the walks were not difficult, a car meant our day just became a little bit easier.  The car never had much gas in it though, and for reasons only Ryan understands, the tank was never filled.  He added R50 here (R=rand) and R100 there even if he had enough to fill the tank.  It probably didn’t help his compact car’s fuel efficiency to be carrying four passengers (in some cases large) plus our luggage.

Ryan was the perennial peacekeeper.  Whenever there was a conflict, Ryan was not a part of it and only stepped in to distract from the argument by changing the subject.  These conflicts were only law-based, never personal, and even when Ryan was partial to one side of the argument he kept a firm poker face.  A lasting quote was born from an argument involving Evan and me regarding offside players in front of the kicker in general play.  Evan and I went back and forth for 10 minutes or so before Ryan said, “Hey guys, look at the moon!”  There was nothing special going on with the moon, but the debate was halted for the night.

He was also the weight watcher of the group, but mainly when it came to getting seconds at lunch or dinner.  Ryan is by no means plump, but for some reason whenever it came to extra portions he would say, “We’re gonna get fat, guys.”  It’s worth noting that this stance rarely stopped him from getting seconds himself.  He and I both had a cache of snacks in our room.  My cache was larger and included chips, cookies, and candy.  In the beginning, he only had chips stored away, but by then end of my trip, his cache included cookies and candy as well.  He accused me of being the influence behind his increased snack consumption and said I would be the reason he got fat while I was gone.  He said these things while stuffing a cookie into his mouth.


Before meeting Evan I thought he was 27 or 28.  This thought was baseless, but judging by the way he hobbled down the stairs, he could have been older.  I later found out that he is only 25.  At one point he tweaked a back muscle and we saw Evan age 50 years in one day.  He had his chest out, back arched, butt out, arms and legs flared, and he walked with a waddle.  Needless to say, we had a good time imitating him.  At the end of the trip, one of my teammates and I had a discussion on what each of us did best.  We decided Evan was the go-to guy when it came to law knowledge.  We, the refs, did not always agree with Evan’s interpretations and he sometimes did not have answers or had incorrect answers.  Despite these things, whenever one of us had a question about law (what the law says, what should/could be done in a certain situation, etc.), Evan was the first stop.

He also was arguably the most competitive and did not enjoy losing, especially in the vision lab.  If someone broke one of his records he would be grouchy for a few hours, if not the entire day.  He would give you your props because he isn’t a sore loser, but he would still be sore.  Being tired or hungry also made him grouchy.  Everyone knew these things so we had fun with it.

At a certain point during the trip, Evan and I started spending more time together.  This stemmed, in part, from the fact that we had shared American experiences.  I think the biggest reason we got along so well was the fact that we could speak about just about any topic with an open mind.  We spoke easy topics like rugby and US vs SA lifestyles, but we also discussed things like our places in the world and politics.  When one of us disagreed with the other, no names were called and no fingers were pointed.  Instead, we heard what the other had to say, gave opinions, facts, and played devil’s advocate in order to come to an understanding.  Of course we agreed to disagree on some topics, but at the end of the day I enjoyed our chats and I think we both walked away as slightly better people.

Throughout the trip, Evan was the most affected by his normal (American) life so it seemed he always had home on his mind.  His wife is pregnant and he, fortunately or sadly, will be missing five or six months of the pregnancy.  Evan still took the time each night, despite our busy and tiring schedule, to Skype with or call her and they would chat for an hour or so about this or that.  On one occasion, he wrote his wife a very impressive sonnet (with some help by Kahlil Gibran) and for Mother’s Day he drew a picture of his wife sitting on a couch eating pancakes with the baby in the womb, holding a card with a heart and the word “MOM” on it.  All of the housemates were thoroughly impressed.  Even though Evan is missing most of the pregnancy, he will be back home in time for the birth of little Evelyn Kelly.


Emily touched down one day after me but did not move into the house until a day later.  Hendrik did not want to wake everyone at midnight again so we did not meet Emily until we were walking to campus for our first session of the day.  Coming from New England, for the first week or so she could not stop talking about the weather.  Apparently, March in Boston means cold air and no direct sunlight.

She had a good time with Geoff’s accent.  His accent is a version of the English accent and it was the way he said a handful of words and phrases that drew Emily’s attention.  For example, he pronounced the word “spar” like the word “spa” and instead of saying “as well” with equal emphasis on the “a” and “w,” he pronounced it “As well” with greater emphasis on the “a.”  Emily was never mean about her jeering and, after awhile, I don’t think she was even trying to imitate him so much as she was speaking with a foreign accent that happened to sound like Geoff’s.  He didn’t mind too much and tried to make fun of the American accent, but since he was outnumbered three to one, Emily always won that fight.

Over the nine weeks that we were in South Africa she snapped well over 1,000 pictures.  These pictures were taken via cellphone and digital camera and were composed of rugby, people, sights, weather, and food.  To me, taking pictures of our food was the strangest part of her photography because, up until meeting her, I had never seen someone take that many pictures of food.  It turns out that her phone is full of food and, unless you have 20 minutes to sit and look, you should not ask her to show you those pictures.  Since she took so many pictures of our meals, particularly lunch and/or dinner, she was always the last one to finish eating.  She would apologize for taking so long, and the rest of us would shake our heads and tell her not to worry about it.


House-maties from left to right: Evan, Kahlil, Emily, Geoff, Ryan

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First 24 Questions

24 questions, in no particular order, from my first 24 hours back in the Sunshine State.

  1. Is this what my car always looked like?
  2. We drive on which side of the road?
  3. What do you mean put on my seat belt?
  4. What do you mean pump my own gas?
  5. Where are all of the compact sedans?
  6. Where are rugby pitches?
  7. Where are the skeleton keys?
  8. Where are the living room leaves?
  9. Where are the wine farms?
  10. Why is it so flat?
  11. Why is it so hot?
  12. Why is the humidity so noticeable?
  13. Why is it so bright at 6:30a?
  14. Why is it so bright at 6:30p?
  15. Oprah has her own chai (at Starbucks)?
  16. Palm trees?
  17. Recycling?
  18. Is that Spanish I hear?
  19. Seriously, it’s after 8p why is the sun still up?
  20. Cream soda isn’t green?
  21. How am I able to pronounce so many words?
  22. The food is already here?
  23. Why does the food cost so much?
  24. Were Southern accents always this rough on the ears?


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Two Refs Are Better Than One

With only three days left in our amazing trip to South Africa, Emily and I referred our final koshuis game as a pair on Thursday night, using the dual ref system. We came up with the idea during the day on Wednesday while we lamented, what we thought would be, our final (my first, Emily’s 3rd) koshuis game. We decided it was worth a shot to ask Hendrick and his response that night was basically a strong maybe. Before asking him I was prepared to be persistent and bug him all day on Thursday if I had to. On Thursday morning, while everyone was settling down after (Emily’s and my last) bergpad, Hendrick told the group our assignments and Emily and I were to be in the middle together; our wish was granted. She and I high-fived.

For the rest of the day she and I talked about this part of the game or how we would handle that situation and things were coming together nicely. We came to an agreement on several aspects of our game and when we didn’t agree she and I discussed the issue until we did agree. Discussions never lasted long which was good because, to me, it meant we were getting onto the same wavelength. Fortunately, Marius gave Ryan (also dual reffing but with someone not in the academy), Emily, and me a crash course on the basics of positioning with two referees. That presentation cleared up some questions we didn’t know we had and also gave us more to talk about. By the time we got to the field, about 5 minutes before kickoff, I was feeling confident and ready and I think she was, too.

The captains came over for the coin toss and I realized we had not decided who would say what at the coin toss. I decided that, since I had the coin, I would do the talking. That was a minor hiccup but it was representative of the entire game because whenever there was a situation that we did not plan for, one of us took charge or told the other one to take charge.

There was a bit of confusion early on, however. I was playing advantage for a knock on and, shortly after the knock on, Emily called a penalty against the team with advantage. I stopped the game, explained the situation, and we moved on without any issues from either side. After that point any confusion was insider information that, hopefully, went unnoticed by the untrained eye. For example, early in the first half there was an attempted kick at goal. The penalty was Emily’s so my duty was to stand under the posts. While the kicker was setting up I stood there wondering who would blow the whistle if the kick was good. I thought that since I was under the posts I should do it but since traditionally the ref is next to the kicker she should do it. The kicker missed wide right so it was a non-issue in the end but after the game she told me that she wanted to make eye contact so we could sort out this small detail.

Throughout the game Emily and I checked in with each other after tries or when the ball was dead. Our conversations were short (“Happy?” “Happy.”), thumbs up based, or, on occasion, were just to relay a concern about the game or mention a personally missed call. Neither of us was ever in the other person’s way and neither of us felt overshadowed.

The game was one sided (5 tries – 0), cold, and rainy but Emily and I had a blast.


Refs at work

Refs at work

No worries at all

No worries at all

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Jailhouse Rock

My club game today was in the Paarl League between Allandale 1 and Young Gardens 1.  Allandale, the home team, plays at Drakenstein (formerly Victor Verster) Correctional Institute; they are inmates.

Victor Verster might ring a bell if you are into South African political history because Nelson Mandela spent his final 14 months in prison there.  There is actually a statue of Mandela outside the gates of the minimum security facility.

I, fortunately, have not been to many prisons but this one was the most interesting by far.  At the entrance gate I expected tight security; what I saw was basically an entrance to any public park in that Hendrick said we were the refs and they let us right in with no questions asked.  On the inside I expected a big grey building with bars over the windows surrounded by barbed wire and surly-looking guards.  Not only did I not see a big grey building, I did not see any structure resembling a jail at all.  What I did see was houses.  There were one-story houses with driveways and garages in some cases, small backyards, homely decor inside.  It was very suburban-esque.  Next to the pitch there was a clubhouse with two televisions, couches, a full bar, and I think I even saw a pool table.  The pitch was the same as those elsewhere in SA and there was even a small shop selling drinks and snacks.

When Hendrick said one of us would be refereeing at the prison I quickly volunteered because (1) prisons in SA have rugby clubs and (2) who wouldn’t want to experience that?  It didn’t even bother me that I would be dropped off, while everyone else in the group went to another venue, and picked up after the others’ matches ended.  As I sat and watched the third and second team matches it was clear that Allandale was the better club.  Each side ran through and around its Young Gardens opposition and the scores where heavily weighted toward the home side.  My match was a slightly different story.  Allandale scored the first points of the match: a converted try within the first two minutes.  It was difficult to determine which was the fitter side but Allandale seemed to be the more fluid team as they moved from phase to phase quickly, spun the ball from here to there, broke tackles, and made timely offloads.  The first half was all Allandale with the score being 29-10.

In the second half Young Gardens seemingly realized there was a match in progress and Allandale seemingly forgot.  Young Gardens started maintaining possession, stringing together phases, and generally taking charge of the match.  Before Allandale could score their first points of the half, Young Gardens already decreased the deficit by 10 points.  The home team seemed to be wilting under the pressure put on by the visitors and the visitors fully believed victory was attainable.  Personally, I thinking the Allandale downfall was their captain who would ask questions about calls I made but would not let me clarify.  He just kept talking about this or that and, as a result, I started to treat him like any other player to be penalized for dissent.  With about 15 minutes left in the match, a new captain was appointed.  Meanwhile, Young Gardens kept scoring and kept believing they would win.  I, too, believed they would pull off the comeback.  The players and I kept one eye on the match and the other eye on the time and when the final whistle blew the was 36-35 Allandale.

At stoppages I wanted to ask some inmates what they did and how long they would be at Victor Verster.  I didn’t.



Posted in 2014, Rugby, South Africa | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Like a boss

We went to the Neelsie Student Center for lunch. Emily went to Jeff’s Place and bought a burger that was composed of chicken, beef, bacon, an egg, lettuce, tomato, onion, pineapple, and two or three sauces. Feast your eyes on the Matieburger.

The Matieburger

Knife and fork required

Almost there

Last bite



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Halfway Checkpoint

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE that it has been 5 weeks since I arrived in South Africa and started my adventures at the Maties Referee Academy in Stellenbosch. I’m writing this as I shift my sitting position in the beach dunes to face the sun, so that if I get a tan then hopefully it’ll be balanced… these are the most of my worries at the moment while I’m on a beach holiday in paradise. We’re spending the extended weekend in Hartenbos, a beach town on the southeastern cape, and it’s a beautiful, perfectly warm but not too hot, lightly breezy day. I did my usual beach prancing upon arrival and then made a home for myself in the dunes.

“…A HOLIDAY, a very long holiday, and I don’t expect I shall return.” – Bilbo, Fellowship of the Ring. As I previously wrote and shared on Facebook, I recently noticed while looking at records of the games I’ve refereed so far in SA that we haven’t had a 3 day break from reffing since my second week here, and only one 2 day break in those last 3 weeks. Wow! There is so much that can be said about this simple observation. But first to finish my LOTR reference, I do expect I shall return from our 5 (FIVE!) days off during the Easter weekend holiday. [tl:dr; I frequently think of Bilbo’s exclamation, “I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains!” while I’m here in SA being constantly surrounded by beautiful, stoic, rising mountains, and I imagine I might feel like Bilbo upon my return to the states.]

Mountains, Gandalf!

The view from the Danie Craven stadium that we call home.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH SOUTH AFRICA’S RUGBY CULTURE has been incredible. The rugby culture here is amazing!!! – It’s amazingly pervasive, proud, and plenty. From baby to great grand parent, student to teacher, rich to poor, South Africa’s sea to South Africa’s moon, coast to coast, and everywhere in between, seemingly everyone knows about and is involved with rugby in some way. Even if someone is a disgruntled fan of hockey rather than rugby (hockey clubs in SA schools often struggle to gain footing in the rugby crazy country, similar to rugby’s plight in America), s/he still knows about rugby, and I’ll never have to answer the question, “Oh, rugby. Is that the sport with sticks?” I find it amusing though that I’m often asked, “Are you Japanese?” instead of the typical question I hear in America, “Are you Chinese?” I assume it’s because South Africans know about Japan’s great rugby traditions, and I find it interesting that that’s one of people’s first thoughts when they see me. Maybe one day American rugby will have its own enormous international rugby footprint and I will be asked if I’m from the US without having to open my mouth first for people to hear that I “sound like they do in the movies”, and maybe then I won’t have to answer the question, “do they have rugby in the US?” to tones of disbelief when I tell them just how much there is, especially women’s rugby.

TO ILLUSTRATE HOW SYNONYMOUS RUGBY IS WITH SOUTH AFRICA, I wrote a blog post called “Reason #87 Why Maties is the place to be for rugby referees”. In it I mentioned a few astonishing facts:

  • There are nearly 200 matches played on a single Saturday in Western Province during their fall season.
  • Paul Roos high, a boys school in Stellenbosch, can and does field NINE U19 (ages 16-18) sides.
  • Western Province requires that all clubs have at least 4 sides in order to participate in Super League A, B, and C.
  • SA Referees estimates that it needs about 3,500 referees while there are only about 2000 active referees.
  • Even 3rd side and Under-20 players sometimes get match fees from their clubs.
  • It is not uncommon for youths to be contracted.
  • Nearly everything I’ve seen that’s related to rugby has a sponsor, from primary schools to hostel teams to our academy van.

While I’m aware that I’m probably living in the rugby capital of South Africa and recognize that perhaps my perspective of South African rugby is skewed, I don’t think my portrayal of how interlocked, connected, and ingrained rugby is in South African culture is too far off.

STELLENBOSCH IS AN OASIS FOR RUGBY. I am very fortunate, maybe more than I even realize, to be at the Maties Referee Academy. I believe it is one of the best, if not the best, programs and environments to train, study, and practice in to become an elite referee. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has made this possible, especially to those who have made it possible for me to get here and be here without having to worry about financing the trip and returning to my job in May.

THE ACADEMY offers so much to support top quality referee training –

  • Access to top facilities such as a vision lab where we train our visual range and recognition, hand-eye-body coordination, reaction time, anddecision making, often inrugby- and referee-specific capacities.
    • A gym with anything and everything I could ever ask for or dream of having in a gym, except a kg to lb converter other than my brain. The gym has plenty of foam rollers, never too few squat racks, Olympic size indoor and outdoor pools, its own crossfit box, anything xfit, plenty of machines, an indoor track, studios, and an excellent crew of professionals and staff.
    • Other natural, beautiful, and less technologically heavy facilities such as a mountain path right behind the stadium, where we run on the well kept path in the early mornings multiple times a week.
    • A stadium, where we train on the steps, watch rugby (Varsity Cup and university practices), and have class in the meeting room next to Hendrik and Marius’ office. For me personally, the stadium is also where I gather motivation and energy from every morning when I skip up the steps and the view opens up to the beautiful pitch below with a backdrop from a Bob Ross painting. I’ll take a deep breath of fresh air, close my eyes, strike a power pose, and simply LIVE in it, smiling.
  • Excellent people including ref coaches Hendrik and Marius, physical trainers like Andre and Melissa, vision coach Grant, mental coach Tom, so many young referee peers, team coaches, Miyagi in particular who invites us to Maties practices, the ladies who feed us every day at the school, and many more.
  • A perfect location with a grossly large number of rugby games, practices, trials, and tournaments to referee.
  • Other academy students to experience the academy lifestyle with, which I believe is critical to the success of the academy. Officiating can be an isolating and lonely experience, so having peers is a refreshing necessity in my opinion.
  • The busy and bustling town of Stellenbosch, full of its share of university students, people who really love their sports, shops, restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, pool tables, ping pong tables, pianos, malls, and many more things that help keep our lives in balance. Of course it’s also full of its fair share of children and relatives of Springboks (I feel like Hendrik knows a child of a Springbok at all the games we go to in Stellenbosch), Springboks themselves (we saw Branco Du Preez and Cecil Afrika at pizza night and Eben Etzebeth at SA U20 trials), future Springboks, iRB refs (met Jonathan Kaplan at UCT), and other refs.
Kids reffing kids

Referees for a national U15 tournament

I see you.

The vision lab

A TYPICAL DAY FOR A STUDENT AT THE ACADEMY, if there is such thing as a typical day, may look something like this:

Wake up around 6am and eat something light before the first fitness session of the day. Around 6:30am start walking to the stadium. 7am is a morning fitness session of either bergpad (mountain trail run), trappe (stadium stairs), or speed and agility. Afterward we’ll walk home, fix ourselves breakfast, and return to the stadium by 9am for 2 or 3 of the following: class, vision, gym, or mental session. Lunch is at 1pm at the local Stellenbosch High School hostel. Between 2 and 3pm the afternoon starts with either another classroom session or a reffing gig! That goes through the evening or finishes quite close to dinner time – 6pm at the hostel. Afternoons of reffing have been things such as trials, youth tournaments, games, and Maties’ club practices. After dinner we return home and unwind, relax, and debrief the day. Sometimes we talk for hours in the common area while other times we do our own things, such as calling people from home, watching movies, reading, playing games, checking our social medial and email when the Internet is on, writing, showering, etc. By 10pm a few of us are usually asleep and by 11 or 12 all of us are definitely asleep.

However, rarely does any day seem to fall exactly into that mold, as unexpected changes, last minute requests, and uncooperative weather constantly keep us on our toes. I like to think that being prepared for the unexpected is good practice for reffing rugby games anyways. I’ve been detailing what our schedules are every day since I arrived in South Africa in a spreadsheet and shared it on my blog here. For the first few weekends we were involved in several youth tournaments, and now that the fall season is in full swing we have Western Province club games on Saturdays along with the tournaments that come our way.

IF I MAY ILLUSTRATE THE FEELING FOR YOU, in terms of my referee development in South Africa, I feel as if I’ve driven over the yellow and red boost pads in Diddy Kong Racing or been Z-button mashing mushrooms in Mario Kart 64, except that the boost has never stopped. Think Rainbow Road (with the spirit, uplifting music, colors, festival, and odd inexplicable but wonderful flashing neon symbols) but replace the entire road with the ramp from Mario Raceway. Maybe I should call it Rainbow Hyperspeed Dream Road. My yellow brick road? Maties Referees’ Road? Road to iRB? That’s bold.

MY JOURNEY IN SA HAS ALSO LENT ITSELF TO A LOT OF SELF REFLECTION. In the absence of the typical daily worries of my American life back at home, such as paying bills and driving through Boston rush hour, and without the constant buzz of the city, young professional 9-5 responsibilities, a need and means to always be connected to the internet, emails, and media, I’m presented with the unfamiliar freedom and luxury for long precious moments each day to

and think.

IN A FEW WEEKS WE’VE SEEN MORE RUGBY than I would have seen back home in an entire fall season. The amount of rugby we get to referee should be enough to convince anyone of the incredible value of the academy. What’s more is that we are constantly getting valuable feedback as well from Hendrik, Marius, fellow students, assessors, and other coaches. With a plethora of games and often multiple games in one day, we are able to make adjustments and immediately tweak or work on parts of our game. The turnaround time between games is extremely short and extremely beneficial. There are plenty of games to make new mistakes in and to learn from. I think the entrepreneurial catchphrase and mindset, “fail fast”, is an appropriate philosophy, and the academy and this country provide the perfect environment for its application.

I FEEL INCREDIBLY FORTUNATE to be here. This country is so rich in rugby culture and its resources for referee development are world class, if not the best in the world. I’m learning from the best and aiming to be the best. I’m so fortunate to be living and breathing rugby as a full-time academy student. It is a top quality environment in which to “eat, sleep, rugby, and repeat”. Even activities which are seemingly unrelated to rugby can have positive implications for our officiating. I’m getting the rare opportunity to live the dream of so many others – of living rugby 24/7. Again, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone who has helped me get here and continues to support me. You have my undying gratitude. Finally, thank you to the Hartenbos beach for inspiring me to write these 7 pages in my notebook. This concludes my Halfway Checkpoint. If only this checkpoint were like the ones in video games, where I’ll respawn to this checkpoint if disaster strikes. In real life I have no choice but to continue on. I’m surely not expecting disaster to strike but it would be a nice time traveling token if I could warp back at any time to this weekend in the middle of my rugby dream. I’m very excited and looking forward to the 2nd half of my South African refereeing adventure!!!!!

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Quick Status Update: ROADTRIP!

Realized that I haven’t gone 3 days without reffing int he past 3 weeks (since week 2 in South Africa), and only once did we have a 2 instead of 1 day break. I had 3 days in a row off twice in our first 2 weeks where we watched tons of rugby instead. This weekend is our first extended break (5 days off without reffing whaaaat) and we road tripped to Hartenbosch, a beach town on the southeastern cape of SA where the water is warm and the fire from the braai (bbq) is warmer. Day one of the beach holiday was relaxing, fun, delicious, and delightful! Look for more updates from us soon :)


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Halfway there

Five weeks have come and gone just like that. I am merely halfway through my trip to South Africa and I have seen and officiated more rugby than I would in a full year back home. Youth rugby is everywhere and I don’t think we have gone a single week without seeing U-somethings in action. I have seen U11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, and U19 and as if that weren’t enough, each age group has several teams. Recently I referred a game between Paul Roos and Grey High U19 G sides. G wasn’t even the lowest side present; there was supposed to be a game between I sides but it cancelled. Where are these schools finding enough males between 16 and 18 to field an I-th team? Back home, in  Orlando, there is one team for the whole city. Insane, right?

At first glance these kids seem like highly trained rugby machines and it is surprising, and a bit startling, to think that they are just kids. The awe wore off quickly though because 1. they make the same great plays and mistakes as the kids back home and 2. they have been playing rugby since they were born. I imagine that if a lower tier basketball country, say, SA, was to see the amount of basketball in schools, playgrounds, etc in America they would also wonder how we have so much of this one sport. With that said, the top U19 players all have the stature of grown men and play like it.

It is frightening to think that they will become bigger, stronger, and faster over the course of their careers.

Collegiate rugby is another animal, particularly the representative sides. Here at Stellenbosch University there is a Varsity Cup side, two club sides in a particular division, and two or three others in another division. We here at the academy will never referee one of their games because we are part of the school’s structure but we do, occasionally, help with on field practices. Among the five of us we have reffed scrums, lineouts, one phase drills, lineout drills, and one side attacks for a period then switch, and all as individual items. The teams operate faster than anything we see on a normal basis so we have some troubles at first figuring out how to stay out of the way but we always figure it out.

It’s frightening to think that not only are there four professional leagues plus national teams after college, but that the players will continue getting bigger, faster, and stronger.

We five refs are ambitious, though. We each have far-reaching goals and we fully believe those goals will be met. Since Emily and I arrived we have not turned down any extra games regardless of how tired our legs are. Trappe and a full body workout in the morning then trials all afternoon plus a high school game for each of us? Let’s do it. Voluntary bergpad (2.33 mile mountain run), gym, and law session in the morning followed by a youth  tournament in the afternoon then a Maties scrimmage in the evening? Sign us up. We’ll rest when we go back to our countries.

There is always something to learn or to fix or to improve. We ref so much rugby and watch each other so often that it is impossible to not improve on a week-to-week or even game-to-game basis. Some problems that I knew about have been fixed. Some problems have come to light and those have also been fixed. I, of course, have a ways to go before you see me in a grand final but I think I am on my way.

More and more each week I see parallels between refereeing and general life. In both one must be able to, give/receive constructive criticism, learn to ask for help, support ailing comrades, discuss opposing opinions, defend one’s own opinion, perform when all eyes are on you, and too many other things to name. One of my biggest takeaways, however, will be the process of learning. It is centered around having a concrete plan and analyzing the results of the plan once executed. Depending on the desired results, a new plan would be made and tested until things are as they should be. Learning about this one process has helped me grow greatly as a referee; I can make a plan, test it today, tweak the plan and test it tomorrow, and continue this process throughout the week until my problem is solved. Even if the issue does not completely go away I will have at least learned how to address should I see it again.

All in all, it’s a shame my trip is halfway through but I am extremely grateful to have been given the chance in the first place.


Posted in 2014, South Africa | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Reason #87 Why Maties Refs Academy Is The Place To Be For Rugby Referees

(Reblogged by Emily from here)

I’ll make a list of the first 86 reasons eventually but here’s

87. The shear number of games and rugby being played in and around Stellenbosch

This week I had the opportunity to referee 9 games ranging from under-13s to club level, practice scrimmages to SA Junior World Cup team trials, and a late evening marathon of 10-minute games to a full blown weekend tournament between two of the most prestigious rugby high schools in the country.

Here are some facts to help me explain just how much rugby there is around here and why I love it:

  • Each Saturday there are over 180 club games in Western Province, and that’s just 1 day of the week
    • Neil, a fellow ref in WP, reffed about 130 games last season
    • Each club in super league A and B in WP is required to field 4 sides, including an Under-20 side
  • Every weekday night at the Danie Craven Stadium (the Maties rugby grounds that we call home base) there are at least 8 simultaneous practices. Sitting in the stadium on Monday evening there were 2 teams practicing in the stadium, 2 more in the practice fields beyond the stadium, and 4 teams practicing on the practice fields behind us.
  • Arrangements for us to ref a Maties club practice (good rugby!) are made spontaneously on the day of
  • Paul Roos Gimnasium, a local high school, fields A to I Under 19 sides- that’s 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, NINE, sides for just one age group!!!
  • Between 2 high schools, Paul Roos Gim and Grey High, there were over 20 matches, U14, U15, U16, U19, played at Saturday’s competition
  • SA rugby enjoys the facilities in Stellenbosch as evidence by holding the U20 SA Jr WC trials at Paul Roos
  • Paul Roos highschool has a spectacular clubhouse and stadium overlooking 6 pitches
  • On Friday we watched the Hostel 1st league games – 6 games held simultaneously in the same hour behind the stadium
  • There are 5 leagues for Stellenbosch University’s hostel teams. 5th league plays on Mondays, 4th on Tuesdays, 3rd Wednesdays, 2nd Thursdays, and 1st on Fridays.

What I reffed over 5 days this week:

Tuesday Maties club practice session, scrimmage style
Wednesday Maties club practice session, focus on lineouts
Thursday South Africa U20 Junior World Cup Team Trials: 2 20-minute periods
Thursday U13 boys tournament in Paarl: 3 10-minute games
Saturday Paul Roos v Grey High Interschool competition: 2 U15 games
Saturday Paarl League club game, 1st sides: Lower Paarl v Perel United

I’ve also watched an un-quantifiable amount of rugby this week, from under-8s playing around on a playground to Super Rugby on TV and everything in between. We also have a full schedule next week with reffing gigs every day including WP U15 trials and a full day in Strand.


SO MUCH RUGBY. Clockwise from top left: young boys playing around before the U13 tournament; Tuesday night Maties club practices (if you look closely there’s another team practicing on the fields beyond the stadium); an under-13 boy warming up; scene from the Hostel 1st league games – each field was lined with hundreds of fans; fans of 2 hostel teams leaving the pitch; Maties refs getting prepped and walking into the area with 6 rugby pitches and a team warming up in the background.


Other rugby scenes of the week

Clockwise from top left: a view of the venue at Paul Roos on Saturday – 5 games between 2 schools being played simultaneously; a small VIP crowd on the shaded roof deck of the club house overlooking the fields at Paul Roos; Kahlil, Ryan, and Geoff chilling and awaiting their games on Thursday evening; back to The Happy Oak to watch the Lions v Sharks game on Saturday night; Driving up to the fields in Paarl on Saturday afternoon; attending Paul Roos’ big brag (like a pep rally) on Friday; a packed stadium and loud crowd welcoming the 19Bs at Paul Roos on Saturday

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