By Heather Bowser, Daily News-Record
Sue Blauch is living a once-in-a-lifetime hoops dream.
For 15 years, the Harrisonburg resident has been a referee for women’s amateur, college and professional basketball.
This year, the stage will get even bigger for Blauch. She will be one of about a dozen women’s basketball referees for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, said B.J. Johnson, USA Basketball’s manager of competitive programs.
And Blauch, 43, will be the only American referee for the women’s games.
Sue Blauch, 43, of Harrisonburg, was selected to be the only women’s basketball referee from the United States to work the Beijing Olympics. Blauch brings the competitive drive of a player to her officiating duties. Photo by Nikki Fox
A committee of “higher-ups” from USA Basketball nominated Blauch in February from a pool of about two dozen qualifying American referees, Johnson said.
“She’s one of our best,” he said. “This is our highest honor.”
Once Upon A Basketball
Blauch’s story begins in a small town in West Virginia.
Growing up in Short Gap, W.Va., she’s had a basketball in her hands since she was in third grade.
“I would just play for hours,” said Blauch, the daughter of Harrisonburg residents Dale and Miriam Blauch.
She played on teams, went to camps and shot hoops with the neighbors and her father. In 1980, after her sophomore year at Frankford High School, Blauch transferred to Eastern Mennonite High School in Harrisonburg, where she lived as a boarding student and played for the Flames.
In 1986, Blauch graduated from Eastern Mennonite College (which became Eastern Mennonite University in 1994), where she and her team clinched the school’s first women’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship. Read more about women’s basketball at EMU…
“I’d have been dangerous had I been 6 feet tall,” said Blauch, who, at 5 feet 7 inches, played forward. “I loved banging around at the post position.”
After graduation, her playing career came to a close.
But Blauch managed to keep her foot on the court by coaching at Eastern Mennonite while working part time in various capacities at the school. All the while, she said, “officiating had never entered my mind.”
That mindset changed in 1988, when Blauch took a full-time job as a recruiter for EMU. Suddenly, she was spending her evenings during basketball season traveling to college fairs around the state, rather than coaching.
She had run out of time for fun.
“It was the first time I didn’t have a basketball season,” she said. “I missed it so much.”
That’s when she decided to put on stripes.
At the request of some friends, Blauch began volunteering as a referee for a church league in Harrisonburg. Although she had never officiated before, the thought of being back on the court struck a chord.
“I was really nervous,” she said.
Nervous or not, she quickly developed a knack for refereeing.
“I found that I could take my competitiveness that I had as player, and transfer it,” she said.
With that, the hobby grew.
From the church league, Blauch expanded her officiating to local high schools, mostly in Augusta County. From there she moved on to college leagues, international basketball and then the pros.
The job became full-time in 2001, requiring her to spend weekends, nights and vacations traveling the world, lugging her whistle and striped shirts.
During her downtime, which was limited, Blauch managed to find time to earn a master’s in education from James Madison University. In the slower seasons, she worked part time in sales and marketing for her cousin’s plumbing business, Blauch Brothers, a job she continues today.
But it was the officiating, she said, that strummed at her heartstrings.
Since 1992, Blauch has officiated four armed forces national championships. She’s reffed semifinal, quarterfinal and regional final rounds of the NCAA tournament and the playoffs for the WNBA.
Outside the U.S., she officiated at the World Youth Games in Russia, the Junior World Championship in Argentina and again in the Czech Republic. In 2005, she was a referee for the World University Games in Turkey and, the next year, the World Championships in Brazil.
On July 31, Blauch will leave for China.
First, she’ll ref at the Diamond Ball tournament in Hangzhou, China, and then for the Olympic Games, starting Aug. 8. Although she doesn’t know how many games she’ll officiate, she estimates it will be between seven and 10.
This will be her one and only Olympics, however, because the honor is given only once.
For now, Blauch plans to officiate at the college, professional and international level at least seven years, when she will turn 50. After that, she wants more time to work in her yard and enjoy the companionship of her close family, two labs and friends.
“Officiating gets into your blood,” Blauch said. “I feel like I’m an athlete in stripes.
“There are a lot of people who spend a lifetime just doing a job,” she continued. “I get to do something I love.”