Kaila Olin likes
being on the
She was there for years cheerleading for Port Townsend youth and high school programs, and watching her father, Don, working as a game …
Kaila Olin likes
being on the
She was there for years cheerleading for Port Townsend youth and high school programs, and watching her father, Don, working as a game official.
Now attending the University of Washington in Seattle, Olin has finished her second season as a varsity football official with the North Olympic Football Officials Association, which is a chapter of the Washington Officials Association, a part of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
“When I did this, I didn’t do it to get my name in the paper or to get attention,” said Kaila, 21. “I did it because of my dad and because I simply love the sport and I am really happy doing it.”
Don Olin, 56, has been a varsity football official for 28 years. His daughter is the only female football official he’s seen or worked with in all those years of officiating games in Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties.
“She is younger than any other referee we have, and she moves well,” Don Olin said of his daughter, who stands just shy of 5 foot 3, and weighs 105 pounds, so at most games, she is the smallest person on the playing field.
“It is so cool to see her out there,” Don said. “It makes me proud.”
During her high school years, Kaila (Port Townsend High School Class of 2013) was a varsity football cheerleader, and played varsity basketball and softball.
“I loved being down on the sidelines as a cheerleader. Dad wanted to quit [officiating] football when I was a junior, and I asked him not to, because I loved seeing him run up and down the sidelines while I was out there cheering.”
Kaila’s focus from football cheerleader to football official emerged from her quest for a driver’s license.
“She got her driving permit, and so she’d drive me to Port Angeles for the [officials’] meetings to get driving time, and she’d hang out,” Don said. “After a couple of years, she asked if she could participate.”
During her sophomore and junior years of high school, she was an official at youth football games, working with her father, and with longtime official Jim Sherwood of Port Townsend, who has been a mentor.
“She is very intelligent and has great speed to cover the field, along with an outstanding understanding of the game, along with a drive to excellence,” Sherwood said.
During her senior year, she moved up to middle school games. Once she turned 18, she could become certified as a high school game official. She started with junior varsity games and made the grade to varsity in the 2015 season.
When she became a game official as a high school student, she did find that a lot of people her age did not understand her interest. Naturally, as one of the rare female football officials, she has encountered doubters.
“You don’t let what other people say affect your decision to do something or not,” she said. “Just go for it. You are going to have people in your corner backing you up, no matter what anybody says. Don’t let anybody intimidate you because only you can decide.”
Kaila’s normal position is that of linesman, the person who works the sideline on the visitors’ side of the field, and is responsible for the “chain crew” handling the down and distance markers. Twice this season she worked as line judge, the official on the home-field sideline.
Don Olin primarily works as the back judge, which means there are times that both are on the same sideline together, and both may be under the goalposts to signal if a placekick is good or not.
“My favorite part is being under the goalpost with him on a scoring kick,” she said, “and we get to raise our hands together.”
Coaches may or may not realize that Kaila and Don are related. Prior to kickoff, the crew chief gives a card to each coach with the first and last name of each official.
“Dad and I like to make it as professional as possible so I don’t call him ‘Dad.’ If I need to get his attention, I call him by his first name.”
Officiating crews talk before each game, and the conversation includes information about specific coaches, players or rivalry issues. While mutually supporting, no official can carry another.
“You can’t cover for somebody else and do your own job,” Don said.
North Olympic chapter officials work games from Quilcene to Neah Bay, and may venture into Kitsap County. An official makes $60 per varsity game. “You don’t do it for the money,” Don said.
“It is the best seat in the house,” he noted.
Officials are rated at a clinic annually. Every week during the season the officials go online to take a five-question quiz, and a person needs to get at least four correct to be allowed to work a game that Friday or Saturday. Examples include clock management, passing plays and sideline markers.
When the season starts, officials see the full schedule of games and then receive a two-week notice on their specific assignment, pending the weekly quiz.
Association observers rate officials, unannounced.
“I was doing the Quilcene game when they had the evaluator there, and it was my very first game ever being a line judge, and afterwards, the evaluator came in and talked to [the officiating crew],” Kaila said. “A week later, we got the scores and [she and her father] both were evaluated as playoff officials.”
Don worked a playoff game last weekend between Neah Bay and Tacoma Baptist, and this week is set to do the semifinal between Neah Bay and Lummi Nation.
“To see it on paper that my evaluator thought I was a good official was a huge reward for me,” Kaila said. “Even though I didn’t get a playoff game, that’s OK. I am humble and happy that I got evaluated as qualified.”
An official’s goals are clear, Kaila said.
“We are certified to make sure that players are being safe, that rules are being followed, and that sportsmanship is number one,” she said.
Sportsmanship is a cornerstone of events sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
“There are kids looking up to the players as role models,” Kaila noted. “They are representing their school, too.”
Being an official is a mental challenge, on and off the field, Kaila said.
“It’s a mental thing, really. It’s about reading books and working on mechanics,” she said. “When you are down on that field and everything is going so fast, you need to make sure you are mentally checked in and prepared for what’s going on.”
Knowing how and when to apply the rules is essential, and so is dealing with the weather, and comments from and by coaches, players and fans.
At one game last year in Port Townsend, the coaches and fans were particularly vocal toward the officials working on the visiting team’s sideline.
“They were saying things to the point where I almost broke into tears, but Dad always says to stay tough and ignore them. I’ve learned that’s really important.”
Here is a modest sample of what a high school football official heard during a game this season in Jefferson County: “Where’s the flag? Are you blind? Come on,
zebra, how long do you have to hang on the back for it to be a horse collar [tackle]?”
When the game score is close, coaches tend to be more focused on the players and not the officials, Kaila said. When it’s a blowout game – one team decisively defeating another – that can lead to more complaints toward officials.
The bottom line is the same: “If you didn’t see it, you can’t call it,” she said.
NOT THAT COMMON
Sherwood first became a North Olympic official in 1982, and since then, he said, there’s only been one other female football official, Betty Cogdale of Forks, and that was during the 1980s.
Neither of the Olins knows if there are any other females officiating varsity games this season in Washington state. “The only one I’ve seen is the one who does professional games,” Kaila said of Sarah Thomas, who started as a high school official in Mississippi. She became the first woman to officiate a major college football game or bowl game, and in 2015 the first female official in the National Football League.
At this point, she does not have such aspirations. Majoring in business and communications at the UW, she wants to become a player agent in the professional sports world.
Does she intend to continue to work as a football referee?
“Absolutely,” she said. This season, she was asked to consider joining an association to work games on the Seattle side of Puget Sound, but chose to continue commuting for peninsula games.
“I love everyone involved in the association. It’s a way to give back. I graduated from Port Townsend and I have some of my best memories there, and knowing I can help the school by being an official is something.”
Do her Port Townsend connections ever lead to accusations of bias for or against certain teams?
“The biggest thing Dad has stressed to me is pretend like you never went to school at Port Townsend. I know when I was in high school and we had officials who were from Port Townsend, I would think maybe they were on our side. But that’s not how it works.”
Father and daughter worked three games together this season, in Port Angeles and Quilcene.
“She knows the rule book,” Don Olin said. “She constantly is reading it.”
One of the crews Kaila worked with at a game in Port Townsend this season was unanimous in its support.
“She’s doing great,” said Mike Wilson, officiating crew umpire from Bainbridge Island.
“It’s my first time working with her; I’m very impressed,” said Tom Duce of Port Angeles.
“She’s phenomenal, phenomenal,” said Duane Harper of Port Angeles.
Ken Yingling, a longtime official from Jefferson County, said Kaila Olin is exactly the type of person the association needs. “It’s supposed to be fun, and she makes it a lot of fun.”