Sports and theater: The similarities might surprise you

Anne Montgomery Referee copy

A career in the sports world as both a reporter and an amateur official made me leave the theater behind.

When I was a teenager, I was in school and community theater productions. But as I got older, I left that part of my life behind, and focused instead on a career in sports reporting. I have also officiated amateur athletics for almost four decades. The world of the stage seemed to no longer fit in my life.

Last weekend, more than 40 years after leaving the theater, I performed in Starlight Community Theater’s production of the musical comedy Company.

What I learned might astonish you. Sports and theater have a surprising number of commonalities. Really.

Actors spend much of their time back stage, waiting to go on. The area is chaotic and a bit messy, strewn with props and makeup, costumes and odd bits of scenery. But it wasn’t until I was applying lipstick above the actors’ cubbies that I smelled a familiar odor, the aroma emanating from a pair of well-used taps. Sweaty shoes. The comparison to a locker room was unmistakable. Don’t think me strange, but I smiled.

Before the play begins, the actors gather for what, in my mind, is a pre-game pep talk. The director discusses what we did well in the last show and what we can improve upon in the next. Actors and stage-crew members who have gone above and beyond are singled out for praise. Then we give a rousing cheer and wait for kickoff … um … curtain.

As anyone who’s ever acted in a play surely knows things don’t always go as planned. Just like a running back who lets the ball slip through his hands, actors occasionally fumble their lines. And that is where teamwork comes in. The other performers step up, grab those dropped words, and get things back on track. In fact, by definition, a play is nothing but teamwork. Just as in football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, basketball and any other team sport, one player is simply not enough. All the components in a performance – actors, stage managers, costume and make-up designers, director, and producer – must work together, if the play is to succeed.

And then there are the heroes. Don’t scoff. I witnessed a hero 24 hours before opening night. One actor was felled by an emergency appendectomy, and another, with no knowledge of the play, appeared for Thursday night’s rehearsal. Company would open the next evening. If anyone deserves a Most Valuable Player Award it’s Andrew Driggers who got off the bench and saved the show.

I’ll be honest. This sports/theater connection never occurred to me before. But the comparisons are hard to miss. There is one thing, however, that I wish would happen when I referee football. Backstage at intermission, actors are sometimes presented with small trinkets attached to handwritten cards, notes penned by audience members saying what a great job we’re doing. I’d really like to get one of those at halftime. One from a coach would be especially nice.

A girl can dream.

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s production of Company.

Come out and join us.



Anne Montgomery’s latest novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other?  The Scent of Rain is available at and wherever books are sold. 

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