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With aid of prosthetic, women’s basketball official makes it to the big time

Arnel Reynon / Section 127

By Kelly Callahan as told to Greg Johnson

 

I cried when I got the email.

I’ve worked as an NCAA women’s basketball official for 18 years, but I had never been assigned to the final site of a women’s basketball championship before. 

The last couple of years, I’ve worked first- and second-round games in the Division III tournament, and my goal last season was to make it to the round of 16. I went a little beyond that. It was a dream come true and a humbling moment for me. 

My mom and aunt were basketball referees. And before I was born, my mom and dad were coaches. So I grew up around basketball my whole life. 

I was born without a foot, ankle or fibula at the bottom part of my left leg. I am 20% shorter on that side. My parents opted for me to have the surgery so everything could be rounded off at the bottom of my leg. That way, I could wear a prosthesis. I was 11 months old when doctors fitted me with my first leg. My parents always told me when I was younger that everyone puts on their shoes, and I just have one extra thing that I need to put on in the morning.

Prosthetics have improved over the years. I was lucky to have parents who were always pushing for the next best thing and improvement. I now have a carbon plate in the foot of the prosthetic, so it absorbs energy. When you deal with something like this your whole life, it is all you know. Everything feels normal and natural to me.

I grew up playing youth basketball and was on the varsity team in high school. When I was 14, I started refereeing youth basketball games. 

I went to college at the University of Delaware, where I graduated with a degree in business administration in 1999. While I was in school, I refereed high school games. That helped me leave campus debt-free.

I refereed my first NCAA game when I was 23 years old. I still officiate games in Divisions I, II and III. 

While I knew I was going to the Division III finals site, I didn’t know which game I was going to be assigned to until after I arrived in Salem, Virginia. I was told I would be working the second semifinal game between Scranton and Thomas More. That meant I could watch some of the first semifinal with the rest of my crew, Zoe Robbins and Scott Berkins. 

It finally hit me that I was going to work the national semifinals when they started doing the player introductions. That was when I thought, “Oh, wow! I’m here.”

It was an experience of a lifetime and hard to describe. I wish everyone could feel what that was like. 

 

Kelly Callahan is a special consultant for the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials and has officiated NCAA women’s basketball games in all three divisions since 2001.