Jacqui White, Staff Writer
Title IX was passed on June 23, 1972 during a time when sexual discrimination wasn’t illegal and a female umpire or referee was not something that was commonly said. Title IX was originally passed to stop a company from not hiring someone based solely on their gender, but there was one section specially aimed at making schools have an equal amount of sports available to both men and women.
During 1972, Bernice Gera was a female umpire who had started her job before Title IX was passed. Even though Gera did excellent in the six weeks of training in 1967, where she spent the off-training time in a hotel instead of with the male umpires, the National Association of Baseball Leagues (NABL) rejected her.
“Gera was told by the NABL that she didn’t meet the physical requirements to be an umpire, despite excelling during training,” said Cassie Lent, a reference librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Like referees and umpires in other sports, Gera faced a difficult time to be respected in a profession that was dominated by men at the time. To this day, the profession is still dominated by men, but there are a few women that are still working to change that.
Lent explained that even though Gera was rejected by the NABL, she fought the decision for several years. Six months before Title IX was enacted in court, Gera won a discrimination suit against the NABL and she received a contract to work in the New York-Penn League on April 13.
Lent explained that on the same day that Title IX was passed, Gera received national attention when she umpired the first game of a doubleheader between the Geneva Senators and the Auburn Twins.
Lent said that during the fourth inning of the game, Gera ruled the base runner out at second on a double play, and then reversed her call. Nolan Campbell, manager of the Twins, disputed the decision and argued that Gera’s first mistake was wearing an umpire’s uniform. After Campbell was ejected from the game, Gera decided to resign, even though she was supposed to be the home plate umpire for the second half of the doubleheader.
The Early Years
Lent said that after Gera retired from umpiring, there have been six other female umpires. However, none have ever made it past the AAA level of minor league games. Christine Wren, who umpired from 1975 to 1977, took a leave of absence after her first season of umpiring for the Midwest league and never returned. After Wren retired, Pam Postema worked minor league games and some MLB spring games starting in 1977.
Even though Postema got as high as AAA, she was controversially fired in the fall of 1989, Lent explained. Postema is also still known as the longest lasting female umpire to this day.
Theresa Cox Fairlady umpired from 1989 to 1991, followed by Ria Cortesio, who umpired from 1999 to 2007. Cortesio worked spring training games for the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks, becoming the first woman since Postema to work an MLB exhibition game. After being denied a promotion for many years, Cortesio was released by MLB in 2007. Lent explained that some people claimed that Cortesio was denied promotions due to sexism and the possibility that the male umpires colluded against her. Lent said that there is currently one woman working as an umpire, Jen Pawol. Pawol umpired at least one game for the Gold Coast League last season.
How Student Athletes See It
Like baseball, softball has far fewer female umpires than male ones. Arianna Young, a second-year pitcher for Mansfield University, explained that in college and in high school, she has seen far fewer female umpires.
“In high school we definitely had female umpires, but not as much as male umpires,” Young said. “We probably had five female umpires when I was in high school. But I’ve only seen one while in college. I think there was about five female umpires when I was in high school, but so far in college, I’ve only seen one.”
Young said most of her teammates in high school didn’t think the female umpires were as good as the men. Young thinks that the male umpires had umpired more games, which gave them more experience over the female umpires.
Midfield for the Oneonta women’s lacrosse team, Briela Tollison, explained that there are slightly more female referees in women’s lacrosse than baseball and softball.
“It’s about even for the number of female referees to males, maybe a little less than 50/50,” the sophomore midfield said. “It was about the same for high school.”
Tollison said that she likes to see an even number of female and male referees, since she knows that usually isn’t the case for most sports.
“I think it would be interesting to see other sports get more female referees. It probably wouldn’t have a huge impact for the game, but I would still like to see it,” Tollison added.
Unlike women’s lacrosse, women’s basketball still has many more male referees than females, Oneonta sophomore Cassandra Nolan explained. She doesn’t play basketball for her college team, but Nolan played all four years in high school.
Nolan said that she didn’t really see a difference between how women and men refereed, but she does think it would be interesting to see more female referees.
“We had about two to three female referees during high school. I don’t really think there’s a difference between men and women refereeing, but it was just kind of different having a female referee after always having male ones. One of them was also a volleyball referee, so some of us got to see her more often,” Nolan said.
Currently there are 10 female referees in the WNBA. The roster has 35 spots, but this is the highest amount of female referees in a single sport. Sue Blauch has the third-longest career for refereeing in the WNBA with 17 years and she has the longest streak out of the women on the list.
Patrick Mineo, head coach for Utica’s softball team, has had a few female umpires during his coaching years. Mineo doesn’t believe that female umpires would be any different than male umpires.
“All are the same,” Mineo said when explaining umpires in general. “Some are just worse than others.”
Even though Mineo explained that he has had more male umpires, he has had games umpired by some really good female umpires. He also said that with male umpires getting older, he thinks it could be time for new blood to be brought up.
“A lot of young softball players know the game as well or better than the umpires currently officiating the games. If they decided to now longer play, they could probably umpire just as good as the current umpires,” Mineo said.
Late last season, the NBA had a female referee, Lauren Holtkamp. Holtkamp was refereeing a game between the Clippers and the Timberwolves. With the Clippers down, Chris Paul III and J.J. Redick went to trap the Timberwolves at halfcourt. Almost immediately, Holtkamp whistled Redick for a foul. After the call was made, Paul clapped his hands at the referee and said something as he walked off.
Holtkamp hit Paul with a technical foul. After the game, Paul said her being a female referee had nothing to do with the way he acted. Regardless, the NBA fined Paul $25,000. Currently, Holtkamp is the only female referee in the NBA out of the 97 referees on the roster for the 2016-2017 season.
“Might’ve been because she was a female, might’ve been the call,” Utica College men’s head basketball coach Sean Coffey said.
Coffey also explained that in all the years he’s been a coach, an assistant coach or a player, he’s never had a female referee.
“If a referee is good, they’re good,” Coffey said when asked how having a female referee would affect him.
Like Mineo, Coffey expressed how the current referees are getting older and the need for younger referees is increasing. Coffey believes a female referee could easily start in Division I, then work her way up to Division III and so on.
“If someone is physically capable to get up and down the court during the course of a game, they can be a referee, regardless of gender,” Coffey said.
Dave Clausen, head coach for Utica College women’s hockey, explained what he thought about female officials in the hockey game.
“There was a game this season, a few weeks ago I think, where a female official officiated Utica’s men’s hockey game. From what I heard, she did really well. Maybe broke a few barriers. I also think it’s kind of interesting how not a lot of people talk about the genders of the officials, but that might be because everyone is just so used to seeing men officiate games,” Clausen said.
Clausen also mentioned that last pre-season for the NFL, there was a female referee, and that he believes this would probably help other women get to the professional league or at least become more interested in refereeing.
“Almost every official at the Olympic and World Cup level for women’s hockey is a woman. I’ve watched a few games and they do a really good job with calls and such,” Clausen said.
Clausen said that though the majority of officials he’s seen are male, he’s starting to see more women. He doesn’t know the exact numbers for the ratio to men and women, but he believes that the ratio is starting to get smaller. He also emphasized that he doesn’t believe that there’s any correlation about whether an official will be good or not based on their gender.
Wolfram Ott, the director of operations for the National Women’s Hockey League (NHWL) explained that they use a company that books and schedules for the games.
“Even though the NWHL isn’t really in charge of who gets selected to officiate the games, we do specifically ask that the company makes an effort to hire and use the female officials when they’re available,” Ott said.
Like Holtkamp being the only female referee in the NBA, Sarah Thomas is the first and only female referee in the NFL. Thomas is in her second year of refereeing.
Even though Lent knows men far outnumber the women in umpiring, she thinks that number of women will increase eventually.
“I do believe that women will continue to umpire in professional baseball,” she said. “However, I don’t think it’ll be a lot at one time.”