Former U.S. Soccer referee Sandy Hunt has provided the highest officiating analysis and instruction in various roles at the international, professional and collegiate ranks. Looking back on her first refereeing assignment, she likely would have given herself a harsh grade.
“The first call I made in a boys’ under-12 type of game, I was wrong,” Hunt said. “I thought it was offside, blew my whistle and realized it wasn’t because their center defender was standing on the post, having a conversation with his buddy, the goalkeeper.”
Call it an incredibly minor blip in Hunt’s illustrious career. As U.S. Soccer pays tribute to the men and women who have played an important role in the Federation’s 100-year history, the officiating contributions from Hunt have been both groundbreaking and vital toward its growth.
The Bellingham, Wash., native began her career as a U.S. Soccer referee in 1987, and her desire to officiate at the highest level was apparent from the outset.
“At that time, the fitness test was the Cooper Test, and to that date no woman had ever passed it – at least that is what I was told,” Hunt said. “The only reason that I was ever ultimately successful was due to the fact that I was completely supported by the men national referees, especially in the Seattle area. They took me under their wing, they helped me, we trained together, we would go run as a group one night a week and spend 90 minutes running, and then we would go to a coffee shop or someone’s home and study the laws of the game. Because of their support and encouragement, and frankly the fact that they never let me do less than they did, they expected me to not only keep up but eventually be able to outperform them physically on the track. They cracked the whip and I didn’t know that it was difficult. I just figured this is just what we’re doing today and I did it.”
Hunt owns the distinction of being one of the first two women to officiate a Major League Soccer game during the 1998 season. Hunt took the center for the Kansas City Wizards’ Aug. 29 match against the Chicago Fire at Arrowhead Stadium, and Nancy Lay was the referee for the Dallas Burn’s game at the Cotton Bowl against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
“Joe Machnik was working with MLS (as the vice president of game operations), Herb Silva was assigning those games, and I don’t know whether they made a bet among themselves or not, but I was given the opportunity to referee a game in Kansas City,” Hunt said. “When MLS first started, if you were brought into the league as a prospect, you had to begin your career on the line as an assistant referee, and not everyone is cut out for that role. I certainly was not. So I survived a year and a half on the line by not raising my flag (laughing) and running fast in order to get the opportunity in Kansas City to be in the middle.”
Hunt’s officiating role in a predominantly man’s world certainly took notice, and it was her top-level fitness standards and knowledge of the game’s laws that paved the way.
“Speaking only for myself, meeting the criteria to do men’s games afforded me the opportunity to have the same access, the same standards and same expectations that were on the table for everyone else at the level that I wanted to do,” Hunt said. “Looking back, if the men referees did not have the same expectations from me, I think my accomplishments in football would have been very different.”
Hunt’s officiating days spread to global events such as the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and the USA-hosted 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and she became a FIFA referee instructor and match observer in 2004. Among this time frame, Hunt also received heavy support to help with the launch of the Women’s United Soccer Association in 2001.
“Some of the coaches and the administration for the WUSA reached out to me and said we would really like to have you involved in our league,” Hunt said. “I felt a call to participate there, and so I sort of changed my path a bit and spent time refereeing in that league to be supportive of their efforts. It’s just grown from there, working for FIFA events and helping develop material for referee instruction that is still in use across the globe. I was a referee instructor for a number of events and tournaments, and now I’m spending more time on the assessment side of things, the referee coaching and mentoring.”
Hunt currently serves as the women’s soccer officiating coordinator in the Pac-12 Conference and the men’s and women’s soccer officiating coordinator in the West Coast Conference. Hunt continues to serve as an instructor and mentor for many up-and-coming referees, and she serves as a member of the U.S. Soccer Referee Identification and Training Selection Panel.
“I’m really enjoying this role – it is so satisfying to be working with referees from all over the place,” Hunt said. “These young athletes are so hungry for information. They want to succeed so badly. It’s wonderful sitting in a stadium and seeing them watch the same people that I have been fortunate enough to know and work with and see them succeeding on differing scales. It’s very satisfying.”