row2k Features
Views from the Referee's Launch - Excerpt 3: We All Make Mistakes
May 3, 2024
Tom Mannle

The start at Lake Natoma

By 2008 I had officiated at the IRAs for two years; Bob Appleyard was the Chief, and was likely to remain so for the foreseeable future and Bob had once again assigned me as the Starter for a shift both years.

I guess I did OK, thanks to Bill Fritz; I knew that the 2009 IRAs were going to be at Lake Natoma in Sacramento, California for the first time-and I wanted to go and plan a trip west for Ann and I beforehand. But the selection of officials wouldn't take place until late winter 2009, and that didn't suit my trip planning purposes (I'm a planner).

So just after the 2008 IRAs Bob and I had the following exchange:

"Uh, Bob...I know you can't make any Jury commitments now, but...if I just happened to show up at Lake Natoma next year, carrying my Referee gear, would you be willing to put me to work?"

"Tom...[I could see the enigmatic smile}...of course, we won't know who's selected until much later, but...we can work it out."

Good enough for me; I could then book lodging at the various national parks Ann and I wanted to visit, a year in advance (a necessity). Ann and I had a great trip west, and arrived at Lake Natoma on a Wednesday the day before competition began.

True to form, Bob assigned me as the Starter for one of the first day (Thursday) shifts. I went through my minimalist, Fritz-influenced routine, and sent the first race off, cleanly I thought. Until I got a phone call (when there's something amiss, we stay off the radio) from the Aligner, Bill Collins, with whom I had worked at Trials for a few years, and played golf with during the generous down time at Trials events.

"Tom. I hadn't finished aligning the crews before you started the race."

Oops. Of course, Bill was correct; in my minimalist routine I had omitted the step, before beginning the Starting sequence, of looking to the Aligner to see if his white flag was raised, signaling that the crews were aligned properly.

Damn! Phooey! (Imagine a stronger imprecation). I waited to hear a report of an objection from a crew at the Finish, that the Start was unfair. Technically, any such objection wouldn't have gone anywhere; there's a provision in the Rules that once leaving the Starting area a crew can't subsequently object that the Start was unfair-and they all left. Still, this was the big time, and it doesn't take all that much to go wrong to have a coach raise a kerfuffle; I checked assiduously for the white flag during the rest of the session.

The Referees gathered for dinner at the Cattlemen's steak restaurant that Thursday night. Bob came in with a bunch of others, we were waiting for a table at the bar. I got Bob a beer, and as we were called into our table, he perked up, put his finger in the air, and flashed that cryptic smile.

For my penance, I was assigned as the Aligner
For my penance, I was assigned as the Aligner

"Tom! Oh! I know what I wanted to tell you."


"A coach came to me, wanted to chat, and in a long, roundabout way..."

[Bob continued in his own long roundabout way, which is how he usually tells a story, he always makes you wait for the punchline].

"...the coach had been to the NCAAs the week before, didn't think much of the Starts ...wanted to know who the Starter was that morning..."

[Double uh-oh].

...."I told him 'Tom, Tom Mannle'...'how do you spell that?...'

...[yadda yadda...more palaver...]

"He told me he thought your Starts were excellent."

[Whew! Bob: DON'T DO THAT TO ME!]

The coach was Bob Ernst, formerly the longtime coach of the University of Washington men, but at the time had switched to coach the women; another name to conjure with. Although mildly annoyed at Bob, I was very flattered, it made my day.

Bill Collins
Bill Collins

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