SUZETTE Virgo and Melissa Farquharson are taking on the big boys.
The duo are the only two certified female referees in the Flow National Basketball League (NBL) — typically a male-dominated arena — and in Jamaica.
Virgo, a 40-year-old physical education teacher at Anchovy High School and a certified basketball and netball referee, has a life-long love for sports. She played football while attending GC Foster College on the outskirts of Spanish Town, St Catherine, where her desire to become a referee was nurtured. She later did a series of seminars and courses in her native St James to qualify her for the field.
"I love the game! Sports is my passion on a whole, I just love it," she said.
"Sometimes it's challenging, especially with the spectators. When they see that the game isn't going their way they blame it on the referee, but as a female ref and as a female on a whole you know how we deal with things already; we answer some and we just have to move on with the rest," she explained.
Virgo, a mother of three, has attempted to further her career in the field but is faced with a major challenge: She was selected to be a regional International Basketball Federation (FIBA) referee but was later rejected as a result of her age.
"I went to a JABA [Jamaica Basketball Association] workshop about a year ago and I was selected to go to a small island to be a FIBA referee, however they said I was too old, so I didn't get a chance to. If I wasn't so old I would be a FIBA referee right now," said Virgo, laughing.
For her part, Farquharson has only been a Flow NBL referee since October 2012, though she is by no means new to the game. The 5' 3 1/2'' former national basketball player is the administrator in charge of local basketball programmes at JABA, administrator for the Men's National Basketball League and manager for the Women's National Basketball team.
She, too, has been enjoying the experience and points out that even though she has some challenges with the game, she has not been treated any differently because of her gender.
"It's a wonderful experience. I mean it has its ups and downs just like everything else in life, but it has been great so far," she said.
"Most people look down on women who do certain jobs, but I haven't received any sort of push-back. If anything, I get pushed forward; they really accept me and it's been very good so far. There's been little or no disrespect. During the game, players experience an adrenaline rush so I don't feel like it's against me because I'm a woman; they do it to the men too," she continued.
"One of my main challenges is the fact that calling the games can be very subjective, so I will have a different perspective from another referee. But, at the end of the day, you have to try to keep it as best and as consistent as you possibly can. It's a problem that occurs all over the world, but I try my best to stay as close as possible to being consistent where controlling the games and protecting the players are concerned," she said.
Farquharson, a 29-year-old Kingstonian, has been involved in basketball since age 16 and was exposed to referee sessions while participating in a global sports mentorship programme at the NCAA. But being a referee is not the extent of her professional dreams.
"I'm definitely going further. I plan to get FIBA-certified but my main goal is to become a basketball administrator and coach," she said.