BY ALENA SCHUCKMANN, STAFF WRITER
When Robert Greenwell stepped onto the field with two other officials for the Fern Creek versus Pleasure Ridge Park boys’ soccer game on Sept. 24, he stood apart. At just 21 years old, Robert was the youngest official, and yet, he was the one in charge.
Just a few years older than the soccer players he was officiating, only his yellow referee shirt distinguished him from the players.
Greenwell said that many times before games he has received strange looks from both the coaches and players when they realized he was their center referee.
“During high school and youth matches I use my age to form a bond with the players,” Greenwell said. “I talk about pop culture and make Vine or Twitter references that players aren’t used to hearing from a referee. This is an instant connect and they see me as a normal human being.”
Before the match started, Greenwell could be seen talking to players on both teams and even joking with the captains during the coin flip.
Despite the rough field conditions at Fern Creek, Greenwell was able to keep up with the players. Greenwell said that fitness tests and clinics are required in order to maintain his academy grade seven level.
Outbursts such as, “Are you freaking serious?” and “No foul there ref?” could be heard throughout the match. One soccer mom said, “If you teach me, I could beat some of these refs!”
Dealing with emotional coaches and parents is one of the most frustrating elements of officiating, Greenwell said. He said he thinks outbursts like these are what makes crowds think the referee is not doing his or her job correctly.
“It’s very frustrating when you have someone who knows nothing about the game of soccer yelling at you,” Greenwell said. “It brings the whole morale of the game down. It makes everyone think they are a bad referee, but in reality the guy doing the yelling is wrong.”
Greenwell said he has been yelled at on several occasions during games both when he is the center referee and the linesman. He said he is not afraid to throw people out of the game when they go too far.
Despite dealing with controversies while officiating, Greenwell said he thoroughly enjoys the job, which he has been doing since 2007.
During the high school soccer season he referees one or two games on weeknights and eight to 10 games on the weekends. The pay varies based on the skill level of the games, but by following this work schedule he usually makes between $10,000 and $13,000 a year.
Greenwell typically referees in the Louisville Metro area and neighboring counties, but he has officiated games in Wisconsin; Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Tennessee; Arkansas; and Kansas.
“This winter I will be spending a great deal of time in Florida doing college showcases and an international tournament,” Greenwell said. “Refereeing has given me a great opportunity to travel and the best part is getting paid for it.
Tournaments will pay your gas, hotel, and some meals on top of getting your game fees.”
Greenwell’s favorite thing about refereeing is the friendships he has made.
He said he enjoys having a support system after a rough game.
“Some of my best friends are referees,” Greenwell said. “Soccer referees in Louisville are a community and that is something unique we have over many other places.”
One of Greenwell’s fellow referees, Steven Whalen, said: “Robert Greenwell and I are really good friends both on the field and in person. He takes the job seriously and he loves to do this job.”
This past summer, Greenwell was one of the 150 referees selected from a group of 300 to officiate at the Region 2 Youth National Championship Series.
He considered this his greatest achievement as a referee because he was chosen over much older officials.
George Huffman, Greenwell’s referee assignor in Louisville, said Greenwell shows potential.
“If he sticks with it, he can be a great referee. He has the potential to go very far with it,” Huffman said.
Greenwell’s advice to other young officials is to “stick with it.” He said he believes verbal abuse is what causes many new referees to quit.
“You need to stay strong, demand respect, and not tolerate any misconduct. If you feel a coach is crossing the line then you need to dismiss them. Stay firm. They may not like you, but you bet they will start to respect you,” Greenwell said.