- Written by Megan Joyce Megan Joyce
In the sports world, the players get the praise. But also there, literally on the sidelines, are the referees whose knowledge and skill are integral to the structure and flow of the game.
Also overlooked is the sheer physicality of a referee’s job; to effectively officiate a game, refs must run alongside the athletes and keep up with game play—and they need to remain mentally and physically fit enough to do so.
Eileen Grumbine has officiated a variety of sports for more than 30 years, from basketball to field hockey to lacrosse.
She’s still hustling across the outdoor fields and indoor courts, keeping pace with the players and making calls that keep game play running smoothly.
“I played field hockey, basketball, and tennis in high school,” Grumbine said. “I grew up on a farm and would rather stay after school and participate in other activities so I would not have to go home and do farm chores.”
She continued playing well into her adult years, spending a lot of time either on the courts or beside them.
When a friend brought her into a local field hockey adult league where the coaches and officials both ran the games and participated in them, Grumbine became curious about getting involved as more than just a player.
“I started to play on a league, and then went for my test with [the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association], and one sport grew into another and then another,” she said.
She started officiating games in 1981, beginning with basketball and soon adding field hockey.
Years later, lacrosse arrived in the area. Despite having never played or watched a lacrosse game, Grumbine learned its rules and signed up to try her hands at refereeing it. The sport proved very entertaining and popular with audiences, so she added it to her regular roster.
She continued to referee all three sports until injury forced her to cut back.
“After suffering a knee injury and having surgery, I gave up the basketball and lacrosse and stayed with hockey,” Grumbine said. “Indoor hockey started to grow in this area, and we had [large facilities in the region] for more indoor games and large tournaments.”
Grumbine worked for an international designer and manufacturer of floors and ceilings for 28 years, mostly with customer financial services in the company’s floor division.
When new management proved less flexible with the hours she needed to continue refereeing, Grumbine chose to take early retirement and find employment with a more accommodating schedule.
When not refereeing, Grumbine now works at a women’s boutique or provides private, in-home care to seniors, depending on the day.
“It was the best decision I could have made,” she said.
When Grumbine first began officiating, there were more than 20 women refereeing girls’ games for basketball alone. Currently, there are about a dozen left. She considers the dip a likely result of family and work issues taking up most of women’s already-busy schedules.
“There is a big time commitment involved when you want to be an official,” she said. “There are numerous meetings to attend and training sessions to keep on top of all the rule changes.”
Conversely, the number of men involved with girls’ sports has seen a steady rise. Fathers get involved in the games through their daughters and eventually become interested in coaching or officiating.
Another change Grumbine has observed over the decades: Some teams are now mixing the sexes. When Grumbine first became an official, there were two chapters for basketball in her area: one for girls, one for boys. But as the pool of available referees and coaches became smaller, the two chapters merged into one.
This can cause minor issues for a referee, as the rules for men’s and women’s versions of the sports are often slightly different. Grumbine herself preferred to referee games for girls and women, being more familiar with their rule set, but she has refereed a few boys’ basketball games and some mixed field hockey games as well.
“It is so rewarding to see young girls learn this game and develop a love for hockey as they go through school and into college and then their adult lives,” she said.
Grumbine currently calls games both during the school season and the winter break, particularly the national field hockey tournaments.
Despite now being considered “semi-retired,” she plans to continue hurrying up and down the field, keeping the game play honest and fair.
“I enjoy student athletes and want to give back to them, as someone had to do this when I was playing sports or I would have been stuck down on the farm,” she said. “I enjoy doing something I love and getting in some extra exercise!”