Officials in high school athletics come from all walks of life.
In high school girls’ basketball, however, not many current female referees are former players.
That’s especially true in the York-Adams area as only a handful of high school officials at the varsity or junior varsity level are women.
Jenny Horvatinovic and Sami Herman are amongst a small group hoping to change that.
If Horvatinovic’s name sounds familiar to you, it should. She was a McDonald’s All-American nominee as a player at Dallastown and then Red Lion during her high school days. Horvatinovic helped the Lions capture the 2012 District 3 4-A title before she moved on to college where she played for two years at Monmouth and two years at the University of Tampa.
Herman, too, was a former player at Spring Grove. She played for two seasons before giving up the sport to commit as a dancer. During her college days at the University of Pittsburgh, Herman was part of the Panthers dance team that performed during men’s and women’s basketball contests.
Herman and Horvatinovic, however, are two of only a half-dozen female officials in the York Chapter of PIAA basketball officials for high school girls’ basketball. Both wouldn’t mind seeing those numbers increase in the years to come.
Not her plan: While officiating contests at any level is often a thankless job — verbal abuse is served up way more often than praise — Horvatinovic perhaps pinpointed an over-looked reason as to why there are so few female officials in a girls’ sport like basketball.
“I know that when I was a player, I didn’t think of becoming an official ever,” Horvatinovic said. “I looked around at all the officials for my games in high school and none of them looked like me so it didn’t even seem like an option.”
So how did Horvatinovic, who is in her third year officiating contests, find herself donning the black and white stripes on game days?
It certainly wasn’t by design.
“Well, the goal after I graduated (from Tampa) was to play overseas,” she said. “I had a couple of contracts that fell through and I just ended up working in Lancaster, which is when I started officiating.”
Herman, who is in her fourth season officiating, didn’t really see officiating in her future either. Her first job after graduating from college just happened to be at a place where she worked with two current basketball officials.
“Once they heard that I played basketball in high school, they started to try to persuade me into taking my test for officiating,” Herman said. “It took about two years before I finally decided to take the test and try it out and see how it works.”
Support from officials: While the York Chapter is dominated by male officials, both Horvatinovic and Herman had nothing to good things to say about the organization and their fellow peers.
“There is a really great camaraderie that our York Chapter has,” Herman said. “It really feels like they are my basketball family.”
“In general, the chapter has always been very supportive,” Horvatinovic added. “I know that often there will be some people in the chapter that go to my games, especially if it’s a big game or a playoff game. Overall everyone has been very helpful.”
That support comes in handy especially in helping to deal with the verbal abuse, which is by far the biggest reason that officials retire from the profession, that is sometimes directed at officials from mostly fans.
“I tend to be a perfectionist,” Herman said. “But in this role, you’re never going to call a perfect game. So you just have to wrap your mind around that and do the best job that you can. And that was and still is a struggle for me at times.”
The advice from her peers has been invaluable in helping the growth process to come to fruition.
“Sometimes the guys will have to talk me off the ledge,” Herman said. “And they are really good with that. They remind you that you know more about the rules of the game than anybody out there, especially the ones up in the stands.”
Despite having an extra year of officiating experience on Horvatinovic, Herman has been nothing but impressed with the work that her peer has done so far.
“Jenny has a really high level of confidence when she’s out there,” Herman said of Horvatinovic, who officiated Saturday’s District 3 6-A final between Central York and Central Dauphin.
Giving back: Both Herman and Horvatinovic agreed that the main reason that they and the over 100 others in the York Chapter are out there doing what they do boils down to one thing.
“As a basketball official I really feel like I’m helping our youth out,” Herman said. “So doing this is a way of giving back.”
For those who want to give back, but maybe don’t have the time to commit to coaching full-time, getting involved as an official is something that both would encourage.
“The first thing that people say to me is that they would never do this,” Horvatinovic said. “Because they don’t want people yelling at them, but it’s not really as intimidating as people think it is. You have partners out on the court with you and you help each other out.”
“I know that (the York Chapter) is always looking for more officials,” Herman added. “If someone asks I just tell them that it’s a lot of fun and that we have a great camaraderie as a group.
“Once you get out there, it’s really not that bad.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.