I’ve always been curious about the life of an AVP referee. It’s a thankless job, one where if you do everything right, no one notices. If you make one mistake, you are at risk of being berated. Even if you don’t make a mistake, you could get yelled at. Add the hot sun, and you have what seems to be a rough occupation.
But they also have the best view of the world’s best volleyball. Volleyball officials travel the country, sometimes the world, all expenses paid plus salary. AVP refs spend the whole season on the road together, becoming a little family. After long days in the sun, they go out to dinner and shoot the breeze, gossip, and laugh. And they’re an integral part of the AVP, which I value quite highly in my own life. I bet they do too.
My curiosity led me to Suzanne Lowry, a longtime AVP ref and one of the few lady officials. Suzanne is very good at her job. She calls the game efficiently and accurately; she’s among the best. Suzanne is the only woman who has been First Referee for a Men’s Final. And she’s done it three times.
Suzanne is also very nice and smiley, always saying hello as we pass each other on-site. We once were both at the same production of Hamilton – me with Mark Schuermann, and she with her husband Keith, who is also an AVP ref. This doesn’t really reflect on her reffing ability, but it shows she has excellent taste in pop culture – something I don’t take lightly.
So without further ado – the great Suzanne Lowry on reffing, love, and weather delay shenanigans.
How did you get into reffing?
Complete accident! I reffed in college for extra money but got away from it because I was playing so much. Then, ten years later, while I was getting my Master’s, I got back into it, and it stuck. I was also always the person on my teams (indoor, beach, or grass) willing to “step-up” and officiate when it was my turn. My teammates generally bought the first couple of rounds in return.
You’re married to another ref (which I’m sure is both great and challenging at times). What’s your story?
It’s going to sound very scandalous, but we first met when Keith officiated me while I was playing in college. Keith was the youngest (and by far the cutest) ref. I was “that” precocious captain on my team. We like to joke that I didn’t have any trouble questioning his judgment then. Keith and I played lots of outdoor volleyball in the years following my graduation, often competing against each other and even playing some mixed doubles together. We always had fun hanging out at tournaments – lots of laughter and flirting. Many years later, after failed marriages and relationships, we both found ourselves single again – coincidentally at an AVP Chicago. I was there on a girls’ weekend, and he was reffing. We wondered out loud if the chemistry might work out. Fifteen years later… YES!
*Swoon* I love that! And now you live, work, and travel together often. What is your yearly “season” like?
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), the volleyball officiating season is year-round.
- January/February: Men’s Indoor and Juniors
- Late February – April: Collegiate Beach and Men’s Indoor
- May: AVP season (yeah!), NCAA Women’s Beach Volleyball Championship, and Men’s Indoor Volleyball Championship
- June and July: Mostly AVP and AVPNext, USAV Indoor Championships (Juniors), Beach Officials rating and training events
- August: AVP, pre-season work for the upcoming Women’s Collegiate season.
- Late August – Late November/Early December: Women’s Collegiate Indoor
- Late December/Early January – holiday break, and we take a non-volleyball vacation to re-energize for the upcoming year
How often are you on the road?
I’m generally officiating four or five days per week. Depending on the format, that’s between 5-25 matches per week. I’m extremely fortunate that I live in an area (in South Carolina) with LOTS of colleges with volleyball programs. I have roughly 25 colleges with volleyball programs located within a 90-minute drive of my house. It’s very nice to be able to officiate college and sleep at home. That being said, we’re usually away from home for roughly 150 nights per year.
Are you able to just enjoy a volleyball match as a spectator, or are you always reffing it in your mind?
I can still enjoy a volleyball match as a spectator, but I think I might be the outlier. When I’m officiating, there are so many specifics that I have to watch (service order, reception patterns, overlaps, etc.), but I don’t look for those when I’m not working. It’s nice to sit back and watch the athleticism and play; I’m fortunate to be able to do that.
What is the general vibe of the reffing staff at a tournament? Professional, familial, a little of both?
We’re on the road so much of the time that we really are a little family when we get together at events. We try to be professional during our daily meetings, court prep, and of course, when working matches. But we’re under a lot of pressure during matches, so we like to cut up a bit during our downtime. Some of the most hysterical moments take place in the ref tent during weather delays. Sometimes we just get silly, and it goes in a crazy silly spiral until there are tears of joy and our cheeks hurt from laughter.
What makes you consider reversing a call? Do athlete interactions ever actually help?
Generally, when I make a call, it will take additional information for me to overturn it. Almost always, this information comes from another member of the officiating crew. Maybe my partner or line judge had a different view, so we discuss what we each saw and make a decision together. Sometimes our view of the rally is blocked by a player or net post, and we need to clarify with our team. But 99% of the time, when an official misses a call (or makes an overcall), the official is the first to realize this. We HATE missing calls!!! Our only goal is to get everything right, even though we know this is impossible. We understand the frustration that these errors can cause players, but loud outbursts from players do not help. A polite discussion between official and player is the best course of action. But it’s not always the most exciting for spectators.
How is being First Referee (Up Ref) different than being the Second Referee (Down Ref) and Line Judge?
As First Referee, you have to judge every single contact. While you get to watch the entire match, your focus is concentrated on the players contacting the ball. As a Second Referee, you concentrate so much on the net that you really don’t get to watch the defensive game played away from the net. Think about how long it takes for blockers to finish their blocking motion and move to their next action; we watch that whole process. As a Line Judge, you watch the play develop because being a good line judge requires some anticipation. In that role, you get to see all the action.