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Glenn Pursley, Published June 28 2013

Group of MLS refs bring expertise to F-M tournament


More than 170 teams are participating in this weekend’s

Tri-City Soccer Club tournament, and the best any team can hope for is to win a championship.

But the players aren’t the only ones with something to gain at the Pepsi Soccer Complex in Fargo or the Moorhead Soccer Complex.

A team of traveling Major League Soccer referees based out of St. Louis made the trip to the Red River Valley Friday to spread their knowledge of officiating and to keep an eye out for young, talented referees.

Chris King and Karen Swanner head the group. They brought two others – Lee Ann Sifford and Matt Tarrillion – to teach what they’ve learned over their 60 years of combined experience.

“We travel as a group and go to tournaments around the nation,” King said. “The two of us bring the two of them along to teach them, like a mentorship program.”

There are many opportunities to climb the ladder of officiating, but one of the toughest obstacles is being seen. And that’s part of the reason why King and Swanner take the time to visit tournaments around the nation.

“If there are quality referees out here, we are going to make sure they get seen,” said King, who started refereeing when he was 12 years old. “That’s one emphasis we are going to have this weekend. We’ll tell North Dakota referees to go down to this tournament or go to that tournament, that way they can be seen and have the same opportunities that Karen and I had.”

Swanner is originally from New York and was one of the first females to be an assistant referee in MLS.

She has 18 years of experience as a national referee for the NCAA and is the only woman to officiate eight consecutive Division I women’s finals. She refereed games for the United States women’s national team and was a line ref for the men’s team.

Being a female referee in a predominately male environment can be equally as challenging as maintaining the physical requirements of being a referee. But Swanner was put to the test right away and passed with flying colors.

“I’m a pioneer,” Swanner said. “I came through the system doing ethnic men’s games and it was tough. Different cultures have different respect levels for women. But they say whatever the referee does in the first few minutes sets the tone, and when I’m on the field, it’s all business.”

King was an MLS ref in Los Angeles before moving to St. Louis, but once he moved, the process of climbing up the ladders starts over.

And although King has never refereed a World Cup match before, both he and Swanner have taught refs that have made it that far.

“Two of the referees from the last two women’s World Cups were one that I taught and one that she taught,” King said. “Teaching is teaching, and there’s a big gratification in that. It’s very gratifying to watch knowing that if I can’t do the World Cup, at least one of my predecessors can.”

Forum reporter Glenn Pursley can be reached at (701) 241-5549