After sending a big group to the East Asian Football Federation Referee Development Course in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association is eyeing to increase its referees pool.
NMIFA executive director Ruselle Zapanta was one of the 11 Saipan representatives to the four-day, off-island course last week and brought back with him training materials from five-time AFC Referee of the Year Sachiko Yamagishi and J2 League’s Tadashi Hase.
“As one of the NMIFA instructors (the other one was Cristy Villaflor) I have to give back to our referees in the NMI and conduct local courses so I was able to obtain training materials shared by our instructors. I hope that we can increase our pool of referees in the NMI and soon we can have individuals represent us internationally at the top level,” said Zapanta, who assisted the two Japanese in holding the course that was also attended by more than 20 individuals from Guam.
“The course was special because I had the opportunity to travel with a big team of referees and we had the chance to work and interact with our Guam counterparts and learn from experienced, top level referees and a former World Cup referee (Yamagichi). Our referee selection consisted of individuals at different experience levels, young and old, male and female. This provided for a great learning environment and the diversity shows that just about anyone can be a referee,” the NMIFA official said.
The CNMI had five U18 referees attending the course—Merrick Toves, Katherine Magat, Floyd Muna, Taga Borja, and Sebastien Manabat. Joining them were adult referees Jeralyn Castillo, Davy Laxa, Mia Carreon, Don Cabrera, and Villaflor.
“The participants did great during the course and the instructors loved them. The instructors weren’t impressed at the beginning of the course, but later they praised the group and were amazed about their progression and improvement in such a short period of time,” Zapanta said.
All the participants received certificate of attendance after the course, but more than the acknowledgement, Zapanta, who is among the few veteran referees in the CNMI, is looking forward to seeing them practice what they learned in actual games.
“The referee course served as an eye opener for the nine participants and has brought up their interest to officiate more matches at higher levels and improve their individual referee skills and knowledge. I hope to see them busy on the field not just as players, but also as officials. There is a lot of potential for them to grow and possibly be our top international referees,” the NMIFA official said.
Zapanta added that by exposing CNMI players and officials to courses like the one in Guam, more people would be enticed to join the pool. NMIFA has limited referees and umpires for competitive games and utilizes players in older age groups or in adult leagues in officiating matches in other tournaments.
“It is one of our challenging areas and I hope this will bring some awareness to our program. Referee development and recruiting has always been a challenge for myself and the NMIFA. Officiating a match isn’t the most popular thing to do, but it has been rewarding for me and I hope to share similar opportunities to other individuals who choose to take on the challenge,” Zapanta said.
“The nine referees enjoyed the course and I hope they can serve as our ambassadors to grow our pool of referees and show other individuals that refereeing is worth a try.”