Prep soccer referee qualifies for college games

Friday, November 12, 2010

What started as a simple summer job for Jeff Pulley has turned into a passion.

That's good news for local soccer fans. They have one of the best there is.

Pulley started refereeing soccer games at age 15 for CAYSA, a job that earned him extra money as a teenager.

"It's just like every young kid at 15," Pulley said. "You need a little extra money. At the time, minimum wage was $4.25 and they paid me $10 or $15 an hour to go do a soccer game."

Pulley recently completed an intense training program and qualified to become a National College Referee. He's the only one in this area to complete the training, which was no easy feat.

To earn National College Referee status, Pulley first had to be accepted to one of the chapters of the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association (NISOA) through recommendation letters and officiating games while being evaluated. Then the president of the chapter had to recommend Pulley for the National College Referee Program.

"It takes several years to work up to," Pulley said. "It didn't matter how many games I did in high school, it was a learning process. The chapter president has to nominate you to the National Refereeing Program, which has become much more difficult. They want to trim it up to make sure the guys in it are the best refs in the country. Then you have a national camp. There are four in the country. At that point, you have to have three assessments a year and pass written and physical tests."

Pulley is eligible to referee any college soccer game in the country now that's he completed his training.

He admits the process created nervousness at times, especially being evaluated.

"You have to have confidence going out there," Pulley said. "It was extremely nerve-racking. All you can do is go out and do your best. If you know the rules and all the training you've been through, you just go out and referee."

Pulley is well-known in this area for his refereeing on the high school level. He recently completed his 20th season as a high school official, but he said he decided to become certified for the college level because of the talent he gets to watch first hand.

The biggest push came from his experience in the state playoffs in Missouri.

"I got the chance to do some of the state playoff games in St. Louis," Pulley said. "I've done three Class 3 state finals. It's nice to see the level of soccer that is. You get into college and now you've stepped up another level and really watch some athletes go at it. It kind of pursued into a drive for me to go out and do better and see better games."

Pulley enjoys the highest level of competition besides the professionals, but he admits his favorite games to ref are not the older players.

"There's nothing better than to ref some of the young kids, second, third, fourth graders," Pulley said. "The kids are out there having fun. If they win, they win. If they don't then who brought the snacks? It's nice to go from the highest level possible with the exception of professional down to little kids where they just enjoy playing."

One snag in the profession of refereeing is the heat refs can come under. Pulley has been through it all but believes there are ways to limit the amount of derogatory comments thrown his way.

"If you do a good job and you call fouls, a lot of those comments go away," Pulley said. "The better referee you are, the less negative comments you hear coming from the fans. There's always going to be some people yelling at everything, but the better you get, the fewer and far between those people are. You have to have thick skin. As long as you know you've done the best you can do and you were correct by the rule book, that's all you can ask for."

Pulley's passion for soccer goes beyond refereeing.

He graduated from Central High School in 1990 and went on to play soccer his freshman year at Southeast Missouri State. The university shut down the soccer program after his freshman season.

His love for the game and passion for his job is what keeps him going.

"If it didn't pay any money, I would still go out and do some games," Pulley said. "I like to referee. I never want to brag, but I think I do a pretty good job and it's fun. You develop a lot of friendships and relationships throughout the years. I look forward to going out and doing the best I can do. I don't want to be the guy where it's, 'Oh great, here comes Jeff again.' I want to be the guy where it's, 'Good, here's Jeff tonight. We should get a good game.'"

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