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  • Writer's pictureKaren Gasbarino

Scott Green - America's Adopted Son Creating Refereeing Pathways

There are only a few names synonymous with Rugby Refereeing in America.

Stalwart Scott Green has to be among them. Known for his imposing frame, on-field banter, and off-field wit, Green leads from the front.

A native of New Zealand, Green first arrived in the USA 25 years ago.

He’s lived in diverse locales throughout the country, where he’s always managed to find the rugby community. A flanker born in Wellington, Green played all the way through school like pretty much everyone he grew up with. So when he arrived Stateside and found himself in Michigan – in February – all those years ago, his first question was “where’s the local rugby club?”

After a bit of back and forth between NZ and the USA, Scott and his wife eventually settled in Austin, Texas. There, he played two seasons with the Austin Huns then another two with the Austin Blacks, his playing days culminating in the USA Rugby 2008 D1 Men's Championship.

After a more than 20 year amateur rugby career and a few injuries, Green traded his rugby boots for a whistle in 2010, joining the Texas Rugby Referee Association where he then spent four years as its Chairman.

For the last 12 years Scott Green has been honing his officiating skills throughout the USA, spending the last nine as a national referee. Prior to the MLR, he spent time in Pro Rugby making him an obvious referee of choice when Major League Rugby was established.

As the senior match official in more than one respect, Green refers to himself as the “Dad of the group” among the MLR referees.

Through my conversations not only with Green but also with his colleagues Kat Roche and Talal Chaudhry, I realize it's said with only a bit of jest; Green is a sounding board and friend to the other referees. The Genuine Article, he’s held in high regard, not just because he’s the oldest. “Age is just a number, isn’t it?” he asks. I can’t but agree - he runs circles around many players, never mind the other - younger - match officials.

Being part of the MLR since its inception, Green has enjoyed evolving with the league. “You’re always being challenged in these games. The level of play is increasing, and the player talent is growing.”

Being the ‘man in the middle’ isn’t always easy, and as with any game there is the odd keyboard warrior. But this doesn’t phase Green, who’s usually the first one to laugh at himself. “Overall, the treatment I’ve had as a referee has been extremely positive amongst the players and the fan base,” he says. He understands frustration, but feels that for the most part everyone connected to the game is upholding the values we boast as a sport.

To that end, Green doesn’t feel that discipline is breaking down between players and refs any more than usual, just that there seems to be more focus on incidents under the lens of social media.

“Rugby is representative of all the different kinds of people there are in broader society, including the people who live sort of out there on the edges, whether it be a player, coach, fan… but I think that’s rare,” he says. Player relations remain positive as well. “Outside of the occasional moment where a player is under pressure and gets frustrated, usually a quick word is enough and everyone moves on with the game.”

Green is quick to point to the ability to deal with a situation on field as being something that is positive and unique in rugby. “Compared to other mainstream sports, rugby can still boast our values with a straight face,” he says. He also admits that just as a player can have a bad day at the office, officials do sometimes make the wrong call.

While being part of MLR’s growth from the inside, Scott’s still a fan of our unique style of play.

“You’ve got the 36 year old veteran alongside the young guy straight out of the draft. It produces some really entertaining rugby. I think technically sometimes it’s not where it should be but it’s going that way. It produces a very open and exciting type of rugby. It’s so raw and unpredictable. As a fan, I like it.”

As a match official, it keeps Green on his toes.

Green shares that season over season the MLR is getting faster too, not as much stop-start as it was early on. Also as the 2022 season progresses, he feels the teams will have gone beyond the almost pre-season feel of the early matches to give us some very fast, entertaining rugby.

All the referees see the progression and are preparing to keep up as the level of play goes up a notch or two.

The MLR referee assignments are provided on a 3 week cycle and are performance-based. Thus, one doesn’t know until the list comes out where they’ll potentially be. For Green, that keeps the competitive spirit firing within. “If you’re performing at the standard, you’ll get more games.” That said, Green admits that being under such scrutiny can be difficult at times and for some referees more than others. In this way, the referee team is there to support one another.

Outside of the ref "team" the relationship enjoyed between match officials and the 13 MLR teams remains positive, overall. The reality is that at the end of the day only one team wins the Shield, sometimes resulting in minor friction. “It’s only natural that the referee is going to come under scrutiny, and there’s no escaping it – so we just accept it.”

To illustrate his point, and with an abundance of self-effacement, Green explains that match officials stay at the same hotel as the visiting team, who are not always successful on game day. The story goes that last season after a match Green was in the hotel elevator. It reached the lobby, the doors opened, and there stood the two losing coaches directly in front of the door. “Well, this is awkward, isn’t it?” Green remarked, with no escape.

Green shares that to date, his most challenging match was the final between San Diego and Seattle in 2019. He had to stay on his toes. “It was such a close game; a double high tackle on the sideline which was a very easy and clear penalty to give. Seattle kicked it down and drove it in to win. It was a very intense moment.” He laughs, “I got tripped over in the maul.”

“If I didn’t see that ball grounded, who knows what would have happened to me,” Green jokes, then offers seriously: “The games ebb and flow in terms of intensity. You may be running down the field and everything is going well and then in a split second you’re making a high impact decision that can decide the outcome of the game.

“That’s what makes refereeing so enjoyable but scary at the same time - you have to be able to shift gears pretty quick and make big decisions and cross your fingers that you get them right.”

Green feels good about how Major League Rugby is influencing the growth of home-grown referees in the Americas to be able to perform on the world stage. “We have an opportunity to really build the North American referee base. Usually when we talk about the impact of Major League Rugby we are speaking exclusively about the players. But it’s important we don’t forget about the other roles in the growth of our game because without them, the game doesn’t happen. We have an opportunity here to use the game to develop not only the players but the referees as well.

“Along with the young players are these young refs who may not get everything right. As a league we all have to accept that they’re maybe not performing at the highest level yet. We have to put the time and the energy into them now so they can grow at the same rate that the league is growing,” he says. Green is passionate about giving the referee base the opportunity to keep up.

”I have to accept that I’ve come into the professional refereeing world at its beginning and that there is still growth ahead,” Green says. Without strength and conditioning coaches, trainers, chiropractors, and teammates training together, it’s a very different set of challenges – the motivation has to come from within. While the match is only 80 minutes, the review process can take three days to get through, then straight into the preview stage for the match ahead.

The amount of dedication American-based referees have is admirable.

Green shares that it’s been a great experience helping to grow the referee culture in America and help to pave the way for the younger refs coming up the ranks. “The fact that I have been able to do it full time for the last 6 years, there are definitely no complaints on my end.

“My hope is to be able to show the next generation of referees that it’s an athletic endeavour, is extremely challenging, and highly rewarding.” He points to Kat Roche as the perfect example of someone young coming into refereeing and giving it her all. It’s a fantastic story that gives Scott Green hope for the future of refereeing in America and beyond.

His reverence for Roche is evident, as is hers for him. And they’re very like-minded in their approach to the task, from training to not taking themselves at all seriously. To evidence the kind of banter that exists between them (and among the referee pool in general), Green likes to remind Roche that she got where she is due to his coaching.

Green admits that his days in the middle are coming to an end, but that he’ll carry on for as long as he feels like it’s still working and his body feels good, though maybe his wife would love to have him home weekends (“for some reason,” he adds with a laugh).

His next role is likely to be helping build the pathway for younger referees to help them feel part of something bigger than themselves, a community, something he feels is needed as match officials are spread around the league and often operate in a vacuum.

It’s something Green thinks a lot about as he reaches out to fellow refs after challenging weekends.

Knowing how much it means to him, it’s obvious that there’s no one better to do it than the Dad of the referees.

And funny as Scott Green is, he’ll probably bring a bag full of dad jokes along for the ride.

Karen L. Gasbarino, April, 2022

Rugby Hive Editor

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