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Vitamin CH Chocolate: that substance without which we would get nothing done

To the readers of Vitamin CH:

Larry Pond sits behind some very good friends of mine at Phoenix Mercury games. Over the last week, I have gotten the joy of attending two games thanks to those same friends.

Now, I love the Mercury. They are a great team and they work well together. I also love women’s sports of all kinds. But, I don’t like when women’s sports teams are put at a disadvantage because of a problem outside of their control. Right now, the officiating in the WNBA is causing disadvantages for some of the teams, especially the Mercury.

When Larry and I were at Tuesday afternoon’s game, this subject came up. Larry let me know that he was writing a letter to Donna Orender. I asked if I could post that letter on my blog. He said yes… So, here it is!


1900 W Chandler Blvd, Ste. 15-380
Chandler, AZ 85224
July 10, 2008
Ms. Donna Orender, President
645 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Dear Ms. Orender,
I have thought a lot about whether I should write this letter or not. I am a season ticket holder at the Phoenix Mercury and witnessed a situation that is causing the Mercury to lose season ticket holders and maybe someday, players as well.
I am the President of an auto racing sanction (league). I have been a basketball coach for both boys and girls high school basketball. I had a chance to coach women’s basketball in college. I worked for John Macleod when he was the coach of the Phoenix Suns. I hold BSEE and MBA degrees and have a successful business background. So, I think I have enough of a background to make the comments in this letter. You may learn more about me at
So, here it is. You have an official that is bad! I am not sure of his name, but he is #18 and I believe his name may be Kurt Walker.
I have witnessed his behavior on court in Phoenix several times the last 2 years. The worst behavior was displayed at the Mercury-Liberty game Saturday July 5th. In this game he affected the game with arrogant behavior, towards the players and coaches, vindictiveness, and behavior that could only be described as narcissistic.
At the end of the game, as the fans stood and booed the officials, he requested additional security to help him get off the court.
As examples of his behavior, he refused to talk to Corey Gaines, the quiet and reserved coach of the Mercury and called a Technical on him.
He called a Technical on Diana Taurasi (his favorite person to T) when she was held by a Liberty player from sprinting up the court after she made a basket. She was not fighting back, she just tried to pull away from the defensive player. He was very emotional and vindictive when he did this.
He would continually not call fouls when Taurasi was hammered, blocked, grabbed during layup or short jump shot attempts.
Taurasi was not talking to him or making any retorts or body actions to him all game. Coach Gaines removed her from the game on 2 occasions when he thought she may have been upset enough to say something.
He called fouls on Taurasi that did not appear to be fouls. He called charging on her when she pulled up for a short jump shot over 2 defenders that were grabbing her arms.
He also did “no” calls and funny calls on things affecting other Mercury players.
When he made calls negatively affecting the Mercury, he often looked at Taurasi with an emotional, menacing face. He also did that to Coach Gaines.
Our family has mid court seats in the 3rd row. We could see him well and we could hear the tone of his voice as well.
Phoenix fans are not wrong. They now expect a bad game any time he shows up.
The result of his actions on court are costing Phoenix Mercury fans. Four ladies sitting behind us that have been season ticket holders for many years did not come to the last game and tell us that they will not renew. They may not be the only ones.
I would venture that players like Taurasi who play in Russia and Europe for their big paychecks may someday decide to take the summer off instead of play in the WNBA if they get treated badly by rogue officials.
It is affecting the game.
In my business our officials must treat our race drivers, car owners and team members with respect. If they do not, they will not be with us. We cannot afford to loose the key people that make our sport go. I suggest that you cannot either.
Ms. Orender, I could do a better job of discussing this employee of yours in person, but in lieu here it is in a letter. Please call if I can be of any help.
Very truly yours,
Larry Pond, President
CC: Dee Kanter, WNBA
       Ann Meyers Drysdale, Phoenix Mercury

(Kathy here again: Thanks to the folks over on RebKell's Junkie Board for supplying the correct name for the ref. Much appreciated!)

Updated... July 24, 2008

(After a bit of a delay we are back with more to the story.... First, a response to this note from Helen Wheelock. Please keep in mind that this all started as an email exchange, not a public forum piece. All participants have been gracious enough to allow thier words and thoughts to be published.)

Larry -

With all due respect, you are not the first fan (of ANY sport) to feel that the refs 1) stink and 2) are against their team and 3) have a personal vendetta against a player.

I love Diana, but she's no innocent flower. And I'm more than amused that just because you think Corey is "quiet" he couldn't deserve a "t."

You believe your background permits you to make the above assessment -- but I'd argue your background should challenge you to go BEYOND these complaints and suggest remedies. By searching for remedies, you might discover the following challenges facing those who want to improve the officiating in the WNBA.

1) Limited pool -- as independent contractors, officials can say yea or nay to working in the W. So the W gets the best of who they can get.

If you've read Dee's blog, you'll see the diverse background of the current W refs -- men's and women's college as well as the D league - consider how challenging it is to train and supervise people in the rule and play differences of the W... in a SHORT time. ('cause they're independent contractors -- the more you want to train'em the more the league has to pay'em)

So, the best college officials might - or might not - want to work year 'round. Most of the officials are NOT full-time, and have other responsibilities -- families, full-time jobs, etc. -- so you might understand why they might not want to ref summer ball.

2) Limited new blood. You rightly say "In my business our officials must treat our race drivers, car owners and team members with respect."

If you've attended professional, college, high school, youth games you know that that is rarely reciprocated. And, in a profession that is trying to develop a pool of new recruits (because, just like the sport, not everyone is skilled, talented and driven enough to become the best), the attitude of fans, players and especially coaches towards officials is, I would say, the biggest roadblock.

Coaches say they want players to become refs -- but when players are asked about the possibility they laugh -- "I hear what my coach says on and off the court about officiating. Why would I ever want to subject myself to that?"

Coaches may think it improves their 'rep' with the fans and their players by going off on officials -- can you imagine allowing that kind of communication in your offices? -- on tv and during practices and tape review. But, they do that at the expense of what they say they want -- good officials who understand the game.

3) Time and Pay. As mentioned, officials are freelancers. People will point to the handful of women's officials who do the job full-time, or the $1000 a game (for top division college teams) and say geez, what a great gig for 2hrs of work a day.

They know little about the time and energy officials need to devote to reaching that top-level plateau. Imagine 10 years. Imagine traveling long distances. Imagine holding down a full time job while officiating 3-5 games a week. Imagine 10 years of no weekends. Imagine having a family. Imagine being paid $25 a game. And the getting bumped up to $125. And then $300. That is, if you're any good and you've managed to negotiate the politics of your geographical area's "assigners." Again, this is over 10 years. While still maintaining a full-time job/family.

Sounds like a great gig, huh? I can only imagine the lines of people ready to sign up.

4) Money. Officiating has been the game's ignored child for years. It was not taken seriously (except by those who did it -- often for free). If you think the women's game has been disrespected and short-changed over the years, imagine the officials of those games. And remember, there used to be only 2 officials per game. Consider how many MORE refs we need these days -- with all the college, youth, AAU, CYO etc. etc. etc.  games. As a someone once said, "It used to be fine of the local mail carrier reffed a game -- no more." 

If coaches and conferences and leagues honestly want better officials, they need to commit resources. The NCAA has started with

But, when was the last time any colege coach asked their conference about their officiating budget? About the supervising plan? About the recruitment and training plans? If they want it, they have to demand it -- and make their conferences put their money where their mouth is.

Officiating will not suddenly improve overnight -- there is not a magic room full of top-notch brilliant officials ready to blow the W's whistles.

If you want better, you need to look at the entire development process.

Consider the growth of women's basketball -- players haven't gotten better simply because they, as individuals, decided to shoot more hoops on their off-nights. It's because an entire system has developed centered on improving play - better coaches, higher expectations, more funds, summer ball, youth ball, camps, not to mention legal battles and shifts in social mores.

And yet, in spite of all the growth in the game during the 35 years of Title IX, it's clear we've got so much farther to go....

We simply haven't committed the same type of energy, time and money on the officiating side. So, what are we going to do about it?

If you're interested in knowing more about officiating and what's being done to improve it (and what the roadblocks are) you might want to read the following:

Making the Call: The World of Referees
Coaches and Officials: Reaching Across the Divide:
Earning Their Stripes: Officials in Training:

Helen Wheelock
Woodside, NY

Me again. When I emailed Helen to tell her that I would like to publish her comments, she let me know that she is one of the people who blogs at Women's Hoops Blog. Check it out! She also offers these links for those who love Women's Hoops:

Officiating Forum

Women's basketball history: (has some "evolution of rules) laced in....

Women's Basketball Daily News

From here, Larry replied with some more information for both Helen and I...

Helen, Thank you for your comments. I agree with almost everything you say.
I have learned a lot from your references. Again, thank you.
I do not agree that there has to be a conflictive or contentious relationship between players and coaches. Although I know that often it is that way.
When I was a coach, I always had a good relationship with game officials. So much so that when I announced my retirement the AIA Officials group came to me and asked me not to retire. They had respect for what I was doing with the players and I had respect for them.
I have carried the respect for others as an important factor in my life of 71 years. In my case it has always worked well. And yes, our organization is different in the racing industry too. Our competitors do not foster respect…..they use the “I’ve got power over you” approach of officiating”
Maybe I sounded like a whiner about referees. That is not what I meant. The 2 lady referees with #18 Kurt at that Mercury-Liberty game were very good. No one booed them.
This particular man is not good for the sport or league….yes, my opinion. You can trash my background as not good enough to make that judgement, but that is your opinion.
We can sit idle and watch bad things or we can write to management and give them our opinions. They can then do as they like, but at least they may investigate. I think this action is better than not saying anything.
I do not write these letters often. In fact it is the first time I have done anything like this.
No, I did not offer any solutions. I am not knowledgeable as to the processes of training and selecting game officials in the WNBA.
Yes, I agree, Diana Taurasi is not a princess. However in this game, she worked very hard to keep her feelings to herself. She did a very good job.
Why was she so sensitive to this referee? He has a record of “T’ing” her. Last year he threw her out of a game with double T’s and one to the coach as well.
I really like womens sports. We also go to ASU Womens BB. I am a basketball fan.
Thank you again for your thoughts. Hopefully we can both learn something from this discussion.
Larry Pond

So why add all this to an older post? Because it actually caused some action. Thanks to Larry's letters, a variety of meetings, etc. have occured. As he wrote me recently:

Kathy, I would like to report to all that read the copy of my letter to WNBA President Donna Orender on your blog.  You may add this to your blog.
First of all, I received a very nice and comprehensive letter from WNBA President Orender. It was an important and appropriate response.
Second of all, I received a telephone call from Phoenix Mercury GM Ann Meyers Drysdale. This call was very nice and comprehensive as well. She thanked me for having the passion and interest to write the letter. This response was more than appropriate or expected. I enjoyed the conversation very much.
Thirdly, I attended a meeting in Phoenix where the WNBA head of officials, Dee Kanter gave a presentation to approximately 30-50 season ticket holders. This meeting went very poorly. All of us left the meeting disappointed in both the material covered and Ms. Kanter’s attitude.
In summary, I would recommend that fans can and should write letters to WNBA leaders and Team GMs when they have a question or comment that is of important. This recommendation  includes letters telling of good things in your WNBA experience as well. 
I believe Ms. Orender cares and certainly Ms. Meyers Drysdale cares. 
However, I would recommend that the letter be written in a fair and positive manner. I would not recommend that particular referee calls be questioned in a negative manner. As a result of the feedback I have received, I am convinced that there is a good methodology in place to review and learn from questionable calls.
One more thing I would recommend to fans. Please recognize that game officials are good people that are trying to do what is right. It is a difficult task to officiate a game. They are human and make mistakes too. I did not complain about individual calls, I wrote about an individual’s  attitude that I felt was hurting the WNBA game.
Thank you all for the many comments you sent to me in response to reading my letter on Kathy’s Blog. I have learned a lot.
Best Wishes, Larry Pond

Both Larry and I kind of figured it would all stop there. I had a bad week last week and never got stuff posted. Then I had to decide whether to make this one giant post or a number of smaller posts. Once all that was decided, one more note came through indicating that the situtation is being looked at. I remain hopeful that it will be resolved in a way that works for all of us.

 Much thanks to Larry for pushing me to get all this posted. It has been an experience I would not have missed!

(My appologies for the formatting problems. This is about as close to consistent as I can get it at this time.)


Posted on Friday, July 11, 2008 8:26 PM | Back to top

Comments on this post: WNBA officiating needs to be fixed

# re: WNBA officiating needs to be fixed
Requesting Gravatar...
Dear WNBA President: I have been profoundly disappointed in the officiating of the 2009 WNBA Finals. The foul called are calls made in high school, not for a professional women's basketball game. I urge you to seek changes, there are many talented athletes in the league, but it is difficuly to watch tlcky, tacky, taps used to halt the flow of the game and reduce it to junior high and high school levels.
Left by Valencia M. Hall on Oct 09, 2009 2:05 PM

# re: WNBA officiating needs to be fixed
Requesting Gravatar...
After reading the above comments, I am not surprised at the outcome of Dee Kanter's meeting with Phoenix season ticket holders. It is very obvious, every time I see Ms. Kanter officiate at game, that she is there to BE SEEN and not to just officiate the game. Her body language indicates that she wants everyone to see her. Not good.
Left by STEPHEN HERRING on Jan 13, 2013 5:49 AM

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