Officials Lezley Smith (left-right), Judy Dybing and Leslie Tidball prepare for a girls basketball game Tuesday at Edmonds-Woodway High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Officials Lezley Smith (left-right), Judy Dybing and Leslie Tidball prepare for a girls basketball game Tuesday at Edmonds-Woodway High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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All-female officiating crew hopes to inspire others

Just 6 of 120 local referees are women, and 3 recently officiated together at a varsity girls game.

EDMONDS — Some say the mark of a quality officiating crew is to go unnoticed.

It’s not often that referees draw the attention of fans, players and coaches for making the right call. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

But there was reason to notice the crew working Tuesday night’s girls varsity basketball game between Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds-Woodway at Edmonds-Woodway High School. It had nothing to do with the calls themselves, but rather who was making them.

Leslie Tidball, Lezley Smith and Judy Dybing combined to form an all-female crew to officiate the game, a rarity in Snohomish County.

“I think it’s nice for girls to see females officiating their basketball games,” Smith said. “There aren’t enough of us doing it. A lot of people ask me why I still work girls high school basketball? It’s because there aren’t enough women doing it. So I think it’s great to be a role model (for other women).”

Snohomish County Basketball Officials assigner Jeff Mattson said just six of the 120 referees (5%) on his roster are women and not all have reached the experience threshold it takes to officiate at the varsity level. So putting together an all-female crew requires “all the planets kind of having to align right.”

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Officials in 2017, just 6.28% of 17,847 officials across all sports identified as females while 71.64% were male and 22.08% were undisclosed. That makes for an 11.4-to-1 male-to-female ratio.

“To get three females that are quality, varsity-level officials, it’s just taken awhile,” Mattson said. “It’s just the whole recruitment process of getting more females in general. It’s just been tough. What’s really cool for me about this is it’s a really good opportunity to showcase three really quality female officials that can be a role model to some of these girls in the game and in the community.”

Tuesday’s game was actually the second time the planets have aligned right this season for Mattson and the Snohomish County Basketball Officials. Tidball and Dybing joined Carol Dvorak on Jan. 7 to work a varsity game at South Whidbey High School between Granite Falls and South Whidbey.

“It was super well received and everybody loved it,” Mattson said. “The girls that were playing loved seeing an all-female crew. So I was able to work it out again.”

Dvorak was originally scheduled to be a part of Tuesday’s crew, but an injury has her sidelined. That led to Smith, president of the Seattle-area-based Pacific Northwest Basketball Officials Association, volunteering to fill in and keep the opportunity for an all-female crew in tact.

“I enjoy helping out,” Smith said. “This is something Jeff had set up. I thought it was really a great promotion. There’s a shortage of officials, and it’s great to show girls that this is something they too can get involved in.”

It also didn’t stop Dvorak from checking in on her peers after Tuesday’s game. Mattson exchanged text messages with Dvorak throughout the event, sending pictures and videos of Dybing, Smith and Tidball in action.

“It’s really that camaraderie and tight-knit group when you get into the officiating world,” Mattson said. “Really its a unique experience.”

Tidball has been officiating in the area for over 15 years and said this is just the third time she’s been a part of an all-female crew at a varsity basketball game. She said the first time was eight or nine years ago.

Before games, Tidball often looks to the gymnasium walls where banners and plaques hang honoring state-, district- and league-title winning teams. There’s a noticeable absence of recognition for girls teams before the 1970s. A reminder of a time when women in sports were an afterthought to most.

“To be a part of something like this, it’s just important,” said Tidball, a 1972 high school graduate. “It’s maybe not a personal mentoring thing, but it’s important that those girls and their moms and dads and the other kids see that this is something that you can be involved in and be real positive. It’s just good.”

Dybing joined the Snohomish County Basketball Officials this season after being a part of the Peninsula Basketball Officials Association. She echoed the importance of being visible to young women at games.

“The more that they see us, the more that they may think about officiating also,” Dybing said. “And we just don’t have enough women officials here, and we need more.”

It wasn’t just the three women officiating the game that were a part of the momentous occasion. Watching closely from the sidelines was Dana Senders, a former NCAA Division I women’s college basketball official who has reffed an NCAA tournament Elite Eight game. Senders serves as an observer for Snohomish County Basketball Officials and uses her expert knowledge to provide advice and critiques to the officials postgame.

After the game, Dybing, Smith and Tidball gathered in a small office inside the Edmonds-Woodway locker room to receive feedback on their performance from Senders.

“I think it’s just fabulous. Her information, her wisdom, is just amazing,” Dybing said. “It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been officiating. There’s always room for improvement. So I can’t wait to get on the court again to implement her information for us.”

And Mattson would love for his officials to get to implement Senders’ valuable feedback as a part of another all-female crew in the near future.

“I’d love to get to a point where we have a good number of female officials in our association,” Mattson said, “and we could make something like this happen more often.”

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