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Editor's note: Chris Fetterman is the boys' water polo coach at Hoffman Estates High School and a journalism major at Roosevelt University. He will be contributing articles and assisting in the running of for the 2009 season.

ENTRY #6 - "From a Ref's Perspective..."

by Chris Fetterman



So often in athletics the same people seem to get all the credit and notoriety. Superstar athletes deserve to be seen and heard from, but so do us regular folks from time to time. I look at the Kobe’s and the LeBron’s of the world and can’t help but wonder how many other great athletes get overlooked while they dominate the headlines. 


Well, the same applies to high school sports as well. This doesn’t just include athletes; there are head coaches who wouldn’t be much without their assistant coaches...great players who wouldn’t be much without their supporting cast...and there wouldn’t be much of a sport without good referees. 


Everyone who puts the time and effort in to promote this sport needs to be recognized and I feel a tip-of-the-hat is necessary. Whether it's volunteering to work a concession stand during a tournament, creating a website where everyone in the entire country can keep up with Illinois water polo, or simply playing your hardest every chance you get, for whatever your reason may be…you deserve to be recognized. 


As a writer, I get many opportunities to meet new people, and getting the chance to write about them makes this job highly enjoyable. I recently had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with referee Mike Mitchell at the Midwest Classic, hosted by Schaumburg High School, to get a referee's perspective on the game. The tournament was a huge success, with teams from St Louis (Lindbergh, SLUH, Lafayette) and class teams from Illinois such as Mundelein, York and Schaumburg...we got to see some tremendous athletes and games.  St Louis University High beat the host Saxons for the crown, 10-6.   


Alas, the interview...



I have had a lot of games refereed by you Mike, how long have you been in the business? 

I am beginning my fourth year as a water polo official.  Averaging 120 games a season for a total of 360 games so far. I am still a real rookie when you consider some other referees who are at four or five thousand games in their career. However, my participation goes back to my high school days. As a swimmer who wasn’t getting much better, my coach suggested trying water polo. At that time, the sport was relatively unheard of in the high school ranks and the rules were different. When I decided to get involved again it was a whole new thing to me.

You get yelled at a lot as a ref, not that I know about that, do you have a moment that you might have thought to yourself: 'why am I doing this?' And do you remember the first time we met? 

I was told early on in the first year that I would need to develop some “thick skin”. That was some real good advice. If I listened to what some coaches and fans had said to me my first year, I would have given up the whistle after the first month.


Don’t take this personal but I really can’t remember that first time meeting. The first season is all a blur to me now. Maybe because I was such a bad official I just block it out of my memory. I will say that, in general, I remember a lot of yelling and feeling alone at the end of the day. 

Come on… between myself and my assistant (Tom Fidler) we were brutal to you.  Nothing? 

Well, no, but since then I have been fortunate enough to spend time with you in various settings. And you have reminded me many times about that game. We are good friends now. That is of course until I make a call you don’t like in one of your games, then its back to “coaches and refs”. Just kidding. 

No you’re not… How does playing Master’s water polo help you become a better referee? 

The benefit of playing the game as a referee is so huge; you really cannot imagine it until you do it. Anyone can read a rulebook and whistle a game but to be in tune with what’s going on in the water you need to have been in the water in a game or scrimmage situation. For example – A high level official once told me “everyone in the water is holding,” it wasn’t until I played that I realized what he meant. Yes, everyone in the water is holding until they get caught place at the wrong time. You also gain an appreciation for the condition that these athletes are in. What looks to be so easy from the side of the pool is truly almost impossible for some of us others. 

I would also say that it is so much fun. I understand where some of the overzealous personalities in the “water polo community” get their thrills. You must swim in another player’s suit to understand what they are going through. (that didn’t come out right?)


I am proud to be a member of the” Beached Whales” water polo club. There are a lot of opportunities to play water polo in the Chicago-land area. And it takes some work to find the best fit for you. I started playing with the Whales in the early summer of ’08. And I plan to be with them for a long time.


What makes the Whales team special is the open minded leadership that takes players of all skill levels and puts them “in the game”. This mixture of veteran and novice only fosters growth and good things for our sport in our area. Another acquaintance through my short time in water polo once told me "There is no place for arrogance in our community." This is certainly true with the Beached Whales. 

Thanks for the shameless plug, Mike...more playing time for you next game! Lastly, I like to compare the treatment of referees to the treatment of dogs. Do you think dogs are treated with more respect than refs?   

Actually, dogs are probably treated better overall.  Man’s best friend, you know. I’ve tried to think hard about an accurate analogy for water polo referees...maybe the IRS or perhaps a rented mule comes to mind. I do think however that, as a group, IHSA water polo officials are not treated very fairly. It seems there is a predetermined barrier between coaches and officials. 

I agree, you are like rented mules—go on. 

I don’t think it’s just a water polo thing. I have had many conversations with our counterparts in football, baseball, and basketball.  We are all treated the same. 

Well I am glad we got to sit back, relax and strap it in to watch some really well played water polo and I hope things get better for the referee community; but maybe coaches should start carrying red-cards to give to refs.  Just joking.  But, seriously we should. 



To go back to my point…  We are all in this “thing” together, and I truly hope everyone is getting out of their seasons what they are putting in thus far. Thank you to all the parents, coaches, players and ref’s for a great start to the season I for one recognize everything you do, keep it up. 

Oh…and parents, stop yelling at the refs from the stands. See you Poolside!




Find out the latest info >


2006 State Tournament

St Ignatius Wins Semifinal

Latin vs Lyons Semifinal

State Consolation Games

Fenwick Boys Win State

Fenwick Girls Win State


Other 2006 Videos

Boys Quarterfinal Recaps

Girls Quarterfinal Recaps


The Goalies: Volume I

The Goalies: Volume II


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