A call to the hall for decorated official - May. 07, 2014
Quispamsis’s Nancy Morrison will enter the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame with a decorated resume in sport, one that includes a trip to Beijing in 2008 as an umpire for softball in the Summer Olympics.
Part two of a six-part series honouring the 2014 provincial Sports Hall of Fame inductees
Part of what makes Nancy Morrison such a good referee is her general disposition, which certainly clashes with the nature of sport.
“I don’t like controversy,” said Morrison from her office at Kennebacasis Valley High School, where she is a teacher and athletic director. “I don’t like to be involved in controversy, so it’s funny that I’ve gotten into officiating.”
Morrison, who will be inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame on June 7 in St. Stephen along with five others, has officiated a variety of sports over the past 32 years. Sure, she has angered some folks along with way – as any official is prone to do – but her desire to avoid controversy has forced her to be on her toes at all times.
She has primarily officiated basketball and softball, where she credits her hard work and attention to detail for her successes.
“I’ve had some situations where people don’t agree with what (I) called,” she said, referring to interference and obstruction calls. “The balls and strikes usually look after themselves if you can be consistent.”
Growing up in Saint John, Morrison – related to the St. Stephen-based Prilutsky family - played all sorts of sports, but typically in an unsupervised setting – on the lawn, in parks, and, generally, just with friends.
“There was probably some controversy then, but you always sorted it out yourself,” she laughed.
(Morrison’s connection to the community was officially noted at a recent St. Stephen council meeting, when she was named an honourary citizen of St. Stephen.)
In Grade 12, playing for her high school’s basketball team, Morrison was asked by her coach to help out and ref a few games for the middle school team. Though she only knew the basic rules and seldom called fouls, it allowed her to spend more time around one of the sports she loved.
A few years later, in 1982, she responded to an ad in the newspaper looking for an official for basketball on Sunday nights. By 1987, she had begun umpiring softball games as well.
She even began gravitating toward the officials when watching her favourite sports on television. She would only receive the New England Patriots games, but she took notice of now-retired NFL official Jerry Markbreit.
“He was probably the best NFL official at the time, just the way he presented himself,” she said. “He had command, he had a presence.”
She recalled writing a letter to Markbreit, telling him he was an inspiration, though he didn’t reply.
In 2004, having ascended the ranks of Canadian umpires with international certification – she earned hers in 1998 – she was one of two hopefuls to represent Canada as an umpire in the Athens Summer Olympics.
She didn’t get the gig.
“It was upsetting at the time, but you move on.”
Three years later, after umpiring the 2007 Canada Cup, she received a call from International Softball Federation’s Umpire-in-Chief Bob Stanton, who asked her if she would like to go to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
By then, she was working as a teacher at KVHS, and getting the time off would be a challenge – or, so she thought. Then-principal Robert Monroe had no issues whatsoever.
“’We’ll work it out,’ he said. ‘Just tell him you can go.’”
In Beijing, she was behind the plate for three games, including the semi-final game which saw the high-powered Americans beat the Japanese. It was not only an incredible experience for Morrison, but she counts it among her best tournaments ever in terms of umpiring.
So how does an umpire rate his or her performance?
“I just know that when I left that tournament, I know I did the best I could,” she said, adding that she hired an athletic therapist to prepare for the long, hot, grueling days. “I can count the number of pitches I’d like to have back. There were only two pitches that I know were wrong.”
One was a nasty change-up “that fell off the table, and I called it a strike. There was no way it was a strike,” laughed Morrison.
Last year, Morrison was inducted into the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame, but being recognized on a provincial scale is something new and exciting to the lifelong sports fan.
“It’s humbling and overwhelming,” she said. “To think that somebody has thought what you’ve done is worthy of recognition is a wonderful thing.”