It’s strange how life throws seemingly inconsequential little decisions at us that, in retrospect, change everything so momentously it almost takes your breath away.
“I’ve got some tickets to see the Caps play tonight. Do you wanna go?” My crazy aunt, who I lived with in Washington, D.C., waved an envelope at me. She was my mother’s sister, and while she also bore the signature red-hair that coursed through that side of the family, the 14-year difference in their ages might as well have been 50.
“Well? Judy unwrapped the white towel on her head and began drying her hair. “Come on. You love hockey.”
She was right. I’d grown up in an ice arena: had earned a not-very-impressive-in-the-skating-world bronze medal in ice dancing from the United States Figure Skating Association. The best part of skating was that there were always hockey players hanging around. There was something so endearing about the way they waddled about in their padded shorts and big sweaters, and how that awkward stride disappeared once they streaked onto the ice. Not surprisingly, most of my early beaus were hockey players.
Later that night, Judy and I sat with her friend Richard. We watched the woefully pitiful Washington Capitals lose, something they did often and with singularly pathetic style. As we were leaving the Cap Center, he offhandedly mentioned that he was an amateur hockey referee and bemoaned the fact that there just weren’t enough hockey officials to go around.
“Hey, Annie skates!” My aunt grabbed my arm.
“Wanna be a referee?” Richard asked.
A few weeks later, I dutifully completed the paperwork, wrote out a check, and applied to become a referee with the Southern Hockey Officials Association. And then I waited.
And then a year went by.
If you’re thinking here that I didn’t pursue hockey officiating with any great zeal, you’d be right. While I dreamed of becoming a sportscaster, I’d been supporting myself by working as a waitress at a tony Georgetown restaurant called the Foundry, a place packed with beautiful people, actors, and professional athletes, where sleep generally came somewhere around dawn and copious amounts of alcohol lulled me into the habit of rising by midafternoon. The place was like working in a candy store and it kept me quite entertained. So much so that my parents practically wept at my lack of interest in acquiring a real job, lamenting that “We put you through college for this?”
Then one day I received a phone call. My application had been found. The man asked if I still wanted to be a hockey referee.
In retrospect – and considering the training I would later receive in other sports – the requirements for becoming a hockey official were ridiculously simple. There was only a short classroom rules clinic and a written test. No one even asked if I could skate. Had they, I would have replied “of course,” without even thinking about the fact that figure skates and hockey skates are rather fundamentally different. I would learn this – to my everlasting embarrassment – when I took the ice for my first game.
I smoothed my long-sleeve black-and-white striped shirt with the freshly sown on patch proclaiming me a member of AHAUS: the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States. My hockey skates felt unnaturally lose. Figure skates, by comparison, reach higher up the ankle and are purchased a size smaller than a skater’s feet, which requires a breaking-in period of extreme discomfort, but which ensures a tight fit.
Gingerly, I stepped onto the ice and a thigh-high child almost knocked me over. The rink was teeming with tiny people – wee boys so small their jerseys almost touched their ankles, and while some zoomed about confident in their skating ability, others leaned heavily on those sawed-off sticks in order to keep their balance.
I grabbed a frozen puck from a bucket near the gate and blew my whistle, feeling a bit embarrassed when the parents on hand turned and gazed at me. If they were surprised I was a woman – a look I would get to know well – they didn’t show it. Perhaps it was because the players were so little. These were kids who would sit on the ice when they were tired and cried when they fell down, so a mom-type skating around with them probably didn’t seem all that strange.
When I’d lined the players up – helmets tilting rakishly on tiny heads – I grasped the puck between my thumb and index finger. The trick was to drop the disc flat on the ice so it wouldn’t roll away.
As it turned out, no one paid any attention to my first attempt at a face-off. That’s because, as I leaned over, I discovered there was something else that made hockey skates vastly different from figure skates: toe picks. As in, there aren’t any on hockey skates. Yes, I knew this. But I had never considered just how much I’d counted on those pointy projections all my life. Intended to help figure skaters take off and land jumps, sloppy skaters like me leaned on them when lazy. So, as I bent over to drop the puck, there were no toe picks to keep me upright.
My next view was of little boys’ quizzical faces staring down at me. And that was not the worst of it. Toe picks had always provided an easy way to get up from a fall. So, I rolled over, got on my knees, and without thinking jammed the front of my blade into the ice.
I went down again.
I finally did get up and stay up, but I don’t remember much else about that first game. Still, something momentous happened, despite my inauspicious start in officiating.
On the drive home, the idea began to form in my brain. What if I could officiate all those team sports I had never been able to play: football, baseball, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball? What if I could learn the rules well enough to convince all those naysayers who insisted a woman could never be a competent sportscaster that they were wrong?
I would spend the next five years officiating amateur sports, working games in between my waitress shifts, believing that somewhere there was a TV news director who might take a chance on a woman who understood the games from an officiating perspective.
And that is exactly what happened.
But what I never expected is that forty years later I’d still be out on the field.
Amphorae Publishing Group
Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook
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2 thoughts on “A chance encounter that changed my life”
Wonderful story, Anne! You set your sights on what you wanted and went for it! Congrats! I wish I could have played hockey, but it wasn’t in the cards being a girl in the 60s. Sigh.
I’m right there with you, Sharon. I was much more suited to being a hockey player than a figure skater. 🙂