Ready to make the call; Easley to officiate state tourney

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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Reaching the Top

REACHING THE TOP – Chico graduate Sabrina Easley will officiate at the UIL volleyball championships this week in Garland. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

When Sabrina Easley started officiating volleyball in 1998, she was just looking for a way to earn extra cash for Christmas.

On the suggestion of a friend, Easley joined the Wichita Falls chapter of referees and was immediately thrust into her first varsity game.

Sabrina Easley. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

She set a goal for herself before that match, and two decades later she is getting to realize her dream.

“When I set out 20 years ago, I said I was going to officiate the state tournament one of these days,” Easley said. “I’ve called some amazing matches in my years. It’s been a tremendous ride, but this is the pinnacle.”

Easley, a Decatur resident, was one of 10 officials selected by the UIL to referee the state tournament this week at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

The UIL chooses referees based on recommendations by different chapters. Only 10 officials and 10 line judges are chosen for the state tournament out of a pool of more than 1,500.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Easley said. “I’m on the big stage this time. I’m more excited than nervous. I love the game and I love watching the girls play the game.”

Easley is guaranteed to work three matches during the tournament but cannot officiate teams she has already refereed this year. She has already called Decatur and Boyd matches earlier this season.

In addition to her day job as the area manager for Oncor, Easley also officiates volleyball at the club and NCAA level. She is a certified NCAA line judge.

At Oncor, Easley is responsible for managing communications for Wise and Denton Counties. She works with elected officials as well as state representatives.

Easley said coordinating her busy schedule can be hectic at times, but over the years, she has learned how to adjust.

“There are times when Oncor is day and night, depending if we have storms,” Easley said. “That’s when I start to get my phone calls. I’m very privileged that I have those relationships with my cities where in the event I’m traveling for volleyball, I’ll pull over or stop what I’m doing and take care of my Oncor work.

“The teams when they’re on the court, they are the most important thing. Off the court, my cities and my customers are most important.”

Easley typically works four to five nights a week officiating volleyball. The job – stressful by nature – has been a learning experience as Easley has grown as a referee.

“You’re only going to please half the teams and half of the crowds half the time,” Easley said. “It’s something you have to get used to and not take personally.”

Her most heated moment as an official came at a tournament a few years ago. Working as the second referee, Easley’s primary job was to help and protect the first referee.

During the match, one of the coaches became irate and started yelling at the line judge. As tempers flared, Easley tried to diffuse the situation with no luck. Eventually, the coach began cursing at Easley and told her to go sell Tupperware.

His comments led Easley to make the first and only ejection of her career.

“Right then and there is when I decided – and I’ve never ejected a coach in my life – that we weren’t going to put up with that,” Easley said. “He got to be escorted outside to his bus.”

Easley said coaches and players have every chance to behave appropriately and are given several warnings before getting ejected. As a former player herself, Easley knows emotions can run high during intense matches.

She said learning how to manage games and let the players decide the outcome has been one of the hardest parts of the job.

“If you have a rally going back and forth, the last thing you want to do is kill that rally by making a call,” Easley said. “You have to think like a coach and react like a player. As an official, you’re there in the moment having to make those instantaneous decisions.”

The 1988 Chico graduate will be on the list to start officiating games at the state tournament Wednesday when Neches and Bryson square off in the Class A semifinals at 1 p.m.

She said the journey to the state tournament has been rewarding, and when it’s over, she’ll pick up the whistle next week for club volleyball.

“It’s been amazing,” Easley said. “It’s so much fun. Even in the most stressful matches, it’s still the love of the game. I have attained my goal and I’m very excited about the opportunity to [officiate at state].”

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