They are the unsung heroes of the game. Invisibility rather than presence on the pitch is the sign of a job well done. We meet two of the umpires who put in great performances in Guadalajara in the previous edition of the Pan American Games.
Ayanna McClean and Carol Metchette were both involved in officiating at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was Ayanna’s second Pan Am Game as an umpire, representing Trinidad and Tobago, while Carol – who is from Ireland – was working as a neutral umpire at the event.
Here, the umpiring duo share their experiences and thoughts about the Pan American Games.
“Pan Am events are like going home for Christmas,” says McClean. “Throughout the years I have met several people, made lifelong friendships, gained exemplary mentors in the region and each tournament is a time to re-connect with them. Interacting with, not only fellow umpires, but the teams, technical staff and fans at each tournament is always a special moment.”
Metchette, who has umpired at top level events all over the world, says: “I was very excited when I received my appointment for the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara. I had never been to any Pan Am tournaments before. I found it was a bit like the Olympics because it is a multi-sports event, with 36 sports and 42 countries, but it had a very different atmosphere.
“Having already been to several tournaments around the world I have been lucky enough to meet lots of umpires from different countries. Each time you attend a tournament you might meet one or two people you have never met before, but at the Pan Am Games I only knew one or two from the umpiring group. So it was a very different experience for me and great to get to know the Pan Am umpires who all knew each other so well.”
McClean has seen both sides of the Pan American Games, she played for Trinidad and Tobago at the 2003 Games in the Dominican Republic. She says: “I have umpired in every Games since 2003, this is the ultimate regional tournament for everyone involved. For participants from smaller nations that may not qualify for the Olympic Games, this is their Olympic event, and the atmosphere lends to it. National pride is on the line and fans get to see their favorite athletes. It is definitely the best event we have in the region for our athletes, their families and the fans.”
At an event such as the Pan Am Games, the umpires are very much part of a team. They have meetings, briefings, social gatherings and team-building exercises, before, during and after the event. Many of the international umpires are part of a Facebook community where they share tips, experiences and memories. Speak to most international umpires and they will talk of the life-long friendships and the close ties they have formed with other officials from all over the world.
Marshalling the umpire teams at both the men’s and women’s events in Toronto is an umpire manager (UM). This year the women’s tournament umpire manager is the experienced Argentinian Cinthia Melli, while Steve Horgan of the USA is managing the men’s umpires.
The umpire manager is responsible for coaching and mentoring the team, as well as assigning umpires for each game. There is a huge honor attached to ‘getting’ the big games – the semi-finals and the final. McClean says: “Every umpire is expected to come in ready to perform at their very best for every game; not only for themselves, but their country, the athletes, the sport they are officiating and the Games. The UM, along with the tournament technical director (TD) make the final decisions as to who will be on the field each and every game. One thing I learned a long time ago, and need to continue to remind myself at each tournament, is to not read into the game assignments. It is a case of doing your very best, putting everything on the table, and having fun.”
Metchette was chosen to umpire the final between USA and Argentina in 2011. She says: “There was a great atmosphere for the final, the USA had quite a few supporters and had been playing well so the fans were expecting a good game – which of course they got. I umpired the final with Wendy Stewart from Canada. Argentina of course was the favorites going into it as the team was full of stars but the USA were having none of it!! USA played extremely well and I think they deserved it on the day, but it came as a big shock to most people.”
Metchette added that there are some games when the gap between the two sides is like a chasm. “There is quite a difference in the standard of some of the Pan Am teams. Some of the matches are played with very high skill levels, some with lower skill levels and then you get the games where there is a marked difference between the two teams. These matches bring challenges to the umpires as well as the players. Obviously, umpires have to stick to the rules but some empathy is need for these games.
“For some of these teams playing against Argentina in the Pan Am Games is the highlight of their career and something maybe they have dreamed of. That can also be the case for some of the umpires.”
All umpires have to learn and develop both their knowledge and their umpiring skills, so the UM will often match a novice umpire with someone who has a lot of experience under their belt. At other times, the nature of the match lends itself to giving an inexperienced umpire the opportunity to show what they can do. McClean explains: “I believe we are paired up by what the game requires. Some games require more experience, others not so much. This is all in the remit of the UM and TD. They have to determine what the best combination for each game is.”
McClean is a relatively new umpire on the international scene, and she talks about who her inspirations and mentors have been as she has developed as an umpire.
“My first and main mentor has always been my mother. She is my number one cheerleader and without her cool, calm and supportive demeanor, my career as an umpire, and as individual would have been completely different. Her "the world hasn’t ended yet" attitude keeps me going towards my goals, because there is always somewhere to go to get there, not always up.
“My second mentor is Minka Wooley, an umpire manager and FIH mentor from Australia. I met Minka at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010. When I had the opportunity to choose a mentor from the FIH, there was no question she was the one. Her umpiring career path, experience, delivery of feedback and overall attitude toward the sport, umpiring and umpire/life balance is one I have the utmost respect for. She continues to write her own story, moving from being an umpire to becoming one of the top umpire managers around the world.”
With the Pan Am Games fast approaching, McClean will be readying herself for the challenge in Toronto. Tipped to become the first umpire from Trinidad and Tobago to umpire at an Olympic Game, she will be hoping to put in a good performance, but as Metchette muses, “You have to be ready for anything. On arriving in Mexico for the 2011 Games, I discovered my luggage had gone missing, so I spent most of the trip in my umpiring kit.”