Congratulations! I understand you were one of the most recent recipients of the prestigious Don Morrison Scholarship! Can you tell us more about it?
Thank you! Yes, absolutely! The Don Morrison Scholarship offers young referees in the USA the amazing opportunity to spend a season refereeing abroad. This year there are 3 recipients - Gavin McCandless is heading to New Zealand to be part of the referee society in Canterbury while Kahlil Harrison and I are traveling to Stellenbosch, South Africa to be referee students at the Maties Rugby Academy! I'm beyond excited to be spending 2 months immersed in rugby culture, learning, growing, developing, and having FUN refereeing, and I'm very grateful for the scholarship that has made all of this possible.
How did you come to play rugby at Brown and what position did you play?
Like many collegiate rugby players in our country, I stumbled across rugby unsuspectingly through a series of fortunate events. A week before I arrived on campus, I told a friend from high school that I wanted to try something new in college and she replied, "I can see you playing rugby, Em!" At the time, I had no idea what this strange sport was about, but took her words to heart. After arriving on campus, I saw numerous posters in every bathroom stall in our dorm, came across an odd shaped ball in the closet of a dorm room I was walking by, made a friend who had just joined the team a week before me, built up the courage to find my way to my first practice (I got lost...), and the rest is history! Once I was there the teammates, friends, sport, competition, physicality, culture, and rugby tradition did the rest and I was hooked.
At Brown I was a back with a (very) brief career as a loose forward and hooker in 7s, and as much as anyone can play just one position in rugby, I was a fullback! Each season there was a pre-season shuffle (and mid-season injury shuffles) where I ended up playing anything and everything from 9-15.
Why did you pursue becoming a referee?
I like to believe I would've found refereeing anyways had it not been for my head injuries, but what led to this madness all started because I sustained two successive concussions and was told by the doctors to take a year away from playing. During my recovery period I read an article called "Becoming A Rugby Referee", by Karen Fong Donoghue, that highlighted many exciting things about being a referee such as staying fit, being part of a team, and having the opportunity to travel around the world. I was also very motivated by the opportunity, especially for young women, to make a national, international, or Olympic team as referees. Around the same time I also heard about the very first Don Morrison Scholarship and immediately jumped on board!
Do you have specific goals for refereeing?
My dream is to become an iRB Panel referee and officiate at the Olympics! My goals for each game are shaped around being the best referee for the game in front of me, because for the players, coaches, parents, and fans in each game it is the most important game at the moment. I try my best to facilitate exciting, fun, fair, beautiful, and poetic games of rugby that will in turn help grow the rugby community. I'd love for rugby to take over the world!
How do you think experiencing refereeing in another country will help you back here in the United States?
I think experiencing refereeing in another country will tremendously widen my perspectives and understanding of the global rugby community, the fundamentals, and the intricacies of the sport. Stellenbosch and the Maties Rugby Club in particular create an incredibly unique laboratory environment for developing and advancing both the sport itself and its participants. For example, some law trials or variations (such as the dual ref system) originate and are tested in Stellenbosch before they are introduced to other parts of the world, and I believe that experiencing such a rugby-centric and fast paced environment is extremely beneficial to developing as a referee, and not to mention very exciting!! I’m ready to tackle the challenge of training in a physically and mentally challenging environment day in and day out. With so many resources and games for referees every week in South Africa, this experience will undoubtedly develop and sharpen my abilities. It will help me officiate all kinds of rugby better and contribute to our sport and growing it here in the US.
What’s your favorite part of refereeing?
Wow, there are so many parts of refereeing that I really enjoy – it’s incredibly hard to pick just one favorite! What comes to mind first is that I have a TON of fun being on the pitch, being involved in the action, and being physically and mentally challenged – simply being in the game makes me really happy! I also thoroughly enjoy traveling to new and familiar places, making new friends while reconnecting with others, and sharing the sport I love with anyone and everyone I encounter. The opportunity to continue using my athlete mentality and competitive spirit to aim for lofty goals is also extremely appealing. It gives me a sense of purpose, aspiration, and achievement. The opportunity in South Africa embodies all of these things and I am so excited!!!!!!!!
Will you be writing about your experience while abroad?
Yes! I blog about my refereeing experiences and adventures here: www.gottarefemall.wordpress.com If you enjoy Lord of the Rings and other nerdy references then you might especially appreciate the blog :) There will also be a joint effort from the scholarship awardees to blog about our experiences at www.dmscholarship.wordpress.com. You can also follow me personally on Twitter @EmHsieh.
If someone is interested in refereeing, how can he/she become involved?
YES! The first step to becoming involved as a referee in the USA is probably to visit USA Rugby’s website at usarugby.org/referee. There are good resources there for you to learn more about officiating and also courses offered in many different locations around the country. If signing up for and attending one of these doesn’t work with your schedule, don’t give up yet! You can also find the contact information for your local ref society here usarugby.org/ref-contacts and they will make sure you have the opportunity to get involved. This could be the first step as well. If all else fails, reach out to me! Oh, and if you need some extra motivation, maybe reading this article will help – it worked for me :)