This summer has been one of the busiest for recent Francis Howell North graduate Samantha Cary.
As a soon-to-be collegiate soccer player with the University of Iowa women's team, preseason training has taken up most of her time.
But things are about to get much busier for the 18-year-old who is giving back to the game she loves.
Cary will have to temporarily put training on hold when she joins an officiating crew at the U.S. Youth Soccer national championships July 22-28 in Overland Park, Kan.
Through her work calling games on the pitch at State Cup and in the recently completed USYS Region II tournament in Saginaw, Mich., Cary earned one of the 26 spots awarded to officials from around the country for the championships.
It's been quite a leap for Cary, who had never donned an officials' uniform prior to high school.
“I first started refereeing my freshman year in high school for the running and to keep fit,” Cary said. “I've been around soccer my whole life, so it just made sense. I started falling in love with it. Soccer is definitely my first priority — playing at Iowa — but reffing has become a passion of mine. I just love to do it.”
Cary has risen through the officiating ranks because of the effort she has put into her craft, according to St. Louis Youth Soccer Association assignor of officials, Randy Masterson.
“Sam has always been a hard worker and her work ethic is just unbelievable,” he said. “She is probably the most competitive athlete I know. Most of the time, good referees develop out of good players, but not always. You have to have that sense that athletes have, but you also have to love the sport so much that you want to give something back.”
Cary said that the love is definitely there.
What started out as an effort to stay in shape has turned into much more.
“I've learned a lot of life lessons refereeing,” Cary said. “Just, if you're refereeing a U19 boys game, how to make yourself have a presence — how to communicate better and how to have more confidence. To make sure everyone knows that I know what I'm talking about. There's a lot of life lessons that develop in being a referee. The other great thing is that the people you surround yourself with — most referees are amazing people. It's a fun environment to be around.”
The environment also has benefited her as a player, she said.
Putting on the official's uniform has helped her see her personal game in a much different light.
“I play outside back at Iowa and have for most of my club life, as well,” Cary said. “Being in the center of the field as a referee has helped my tactical side of the game. It's helped me see different options and read the game a little bit better.”
While Cary has proven her ability to work as an official is there, she's also been in the middle of some weird situations.
Between refereeing U19 girls and boys games to officiating her high school classmates' games, Cary has run the gamut.
“It was a little bit surreal for me, those being girls my age, but it was also such an honor,” Cary said. “You definitely get weird looks. In State Cup, my assessor gave me U18 boys center (referee) and some of the boys that played went to my high school. In games where I know players, or they can tell my age, that's when I have to start showing my presence as a referee, and one who knows what she's doing. I have to be like, 'Yeah, I may be your age, but I now exactly what I'm talking about and I'm not going to put up with anything.'”
Cary's mom, Kim, said that it has been exciting but not surprising to see her daughter's meteoric rise through the refereeing ranks.
“I’m extremely excited that Samantha has the opportunity to referee at Nationals and represent St. Louis,” Kim Cary said. “Two of Sam’s top qualities are her untouchable work ethic and strong competitive spirit. She has put a ton of time and effort into perfecting her refereeing skills and I’m excited that she is able to see her hard work pay off. In addition, when Sam sets her sights on a goal — in this case being in the top 10% of all referees in the Midwest Region — there is nothing that is going to stop her from attaining that goal.”
Sam is ready for a prosperous soccer career at Iowa, but refereeing isn't something that's going to go away.
She's currently working on attaining dual refereeing certification in Iowa and Missouri in order to hone her craft wherever she may be.
“I really think this is something I want to do for a long time,” Cary said. “I love my sport and this is a chance for me to give back. What's coming (nationals) is exciting, but this is really something I can see myself doing for many years.”
But for now, Cary is focused on the national tournament, where she'll be an assistant referee, calling the lines.
"I'm just honored to be able to be a part of such a great group of referees," Cary said. "I'm excited to get the chance to do this."