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February 4, 2003

Deaf ref making most of chance

From: USA Today - 04 Feb 2003

By Dick Patrick, USA TODAY

Like a lot of referees, Marsha Wetzel is a former high school and college
player who wanted to continue her involvement in the game she loves.

Unlike any other ref in Division I women's basketball, Wetzel is deaf.
Wetzel, 40, an instructor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf
at Rochester Institute of Technology, is in her first season in Division I
and scheduled for eight games in the Atlantic 10 and Patriot League.

"She is quite a woman," says Marie Koch, the A-10 coordinator of officials.
"She earned her way onto the A-10 second-tier staff simply because of her
refereeing ability. She worked hard at our camp. She demonstrated extreme
court awareness, a good working knowledge of the game.

"She's one of the most receptive officials I've ever worked with. She's a
sponge. She can't learn enough."
Wetzel also wants to work more. Her aspirations include a busier Division I
schedule, conference playoff games, the NCAA tournament, the Final Four, the
WNBA and the Deaf Olympics.

"Her biggest detriment is she doesn't have Division I exposure and
experience," Koch says. "It will take a couple of years to get that, as it
does for any official."

It took Wetzel 13 years to get to Division I; she also works high school and
Division III games. Born deaf to deaf parents, she doesn't consider her
inability to hear buzzers and whistles her biggest difficulty.
In late-game situations, she attempts to avoid the central position that
monitors the clock. She gets by with what she calls "game feel" and

In a recent Patriot League game, she called a foul as the half ended. She
and her partners conferred; they determined her whistle occurred before the

Patriot League coordinator Renee Dorfman says Wetzel's mechanics are
excellent. "I also notice the crews she works raise their communication
levels," Dorfman says. "But if you didn't know she was deaf, you'd never
notice it watching her work."

Wetzel's toughest task is providing for interpreters, who use American Sign
Language to help her communicate to partners in pregame, halftime and
postgame meetings or to players and coaches.

"It's very difficult for me to read speech," she says. "Everybody has
different lip movement. Without an interpreter, I feel like a second-class
citizen. The other officials take care of business, and I kind of hang out."

Wetzel, who earns $450-$500 for Division I games and $110-4125 for D-III
games, has to line up and sometimes pay interpreters, up to $45 an hour.

She says she has received letters from college administrators either
objecting to or declining to pay for interpreters and suspects the issue has
hindered her advancement. She's building a network of interpreters, has
received grants to defray the expenses and is considering approaching the
NCAA for funding.

"It has been an ultimate professional accomplishment for me as an NCAA
Division I female basketball referee, especially as a deaf role model to the
deaf community," she says. "I'm happy to provide more exposure about our
deaf culture and language."

Wetzel would like to see more deaf referees. Guy Kirk does D-I men's games.
She is aware of two other female high school refs and about 30 deaf males
doing either high school or lower division college games. At RIT she teaches
a class in officiating to deaf students.

"These are potential officials," she says. "But I hate to think of them
going through the same struggles I face. I'm trying to teach them, but I
know what I'm setting them up for. It would be a difficult world. But
certainly a worthwhile one."

© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.