Basketball has been a one-of-a-kind experience for Crystal Hogan. The Long Beach State alum didn’t play until she was in high school, and never planned to keep it as part of her life. But last year she was the only female referee working NCAA Division I men’s basketball games.
“We still don’t know how many women are interested,” Hogan said. “Now that there’s an opportunity, let’s just hope that women who want to do the job will come.”
After developing her aggressive style as a shooting guard at Compton College, Hogan was recruited to LBSU. She graduated in 2000 with two degrees in psychology and criminal justice, and went back to school this summer to get her masters degree. After getting a job as a social worker, a former coach helped Hogan get into refereeing.
Hogan is following the trail blazed by Compton’s Violet Palmer, who became the first female referee in NBA history in 2006.
After a long summer off the court, Hogan has already been working men’s games this season, and we caught up with her last week to discuss her unique journey.
Question: Do you remember the first time you played basketball?
Answer: I started really late at the end of eight grade going into ninth. It was at Roosevelt Middle School in Compton. I do remember, and I didn’t know anything (about basketball). Absolutely nothing.
Q: What was it like growing up in Compton in the 1990s?
A: For me, I was raised by my grandmother and my mom, so it was okay. I’ve seen a lot. That’s a lot that happens in Compton. But there’s also a lot of good that happens in Compton. It’s just a matter of who you surround yourself with. I was lucky enough that when that time came when you can either take a left or take a right in life… I’m just happy the sports took me right instead of left.
Q: When you got to Dominguez High, did you plan on playing basketball?
A: No. My best friend and I decided to play softball, but she also played basketball. She talked me into trying out for the team. Our coach, Albert Turner, was actually the football coach. He didn’t know anything (basketball) either and we all learned together. He was the most intense and caring coach. We were so committed. We would spend five hours in the gym. That’s unheard of now.
Q: Did you know what kind of player you wanted to be?
A: I developed a liking for shooting, so I was a shooting guard. My teammates would tell you that I was a pure shooting guard. I played no defense whatsoever, and I kind of got yelled at quite a bit for not passing.
Q: What do you remember about your time at Long Beach State?
A: It was different because I hadn’t really been out of Compton. When I got to Long Beach State it was kind of a culture shock. Even though it was down the street, there’s a lot of diversity at Long Beach State, and it was a really good experience. I only wish that a lot more of our inner-city kids could get the experience to be able to be a college student.
Q: You became a social worker right out of college, so why even come back to officiate basketball in 2002?
A: Kevin Cutler was an assistant coach at Long Beach State when I met him. After I graduated we remained friends and he started refereeing. He knew I just had a baby, and he asked me if I wanted to make some extra money doing something I really liked. He introduced me to the Long Beach high school unit and that’s how I got started.
Q: Did you spend time in the classroom to become a referee?
A: Yes, that’s where you learn the basics of officiating. You sit in the classroom and you have tests. You watch film, and do a certain amount of hours of floor work. That’s all before you can get certified to ref high school games.
Q: In your opinion, what makes a good basketball referee?
A: Someone who can take constructive criticism. Someone who can say, ‘I missed the play. I’m not perfect.’ What made me better is that I was always willing to listen to my peers, other coaches and my mentors. If they tell me something I just take the positive out and roll with it. Hard work and dedication comes with anything, but just having an open mind and being able to grasp the concept that we’re all human and it’s okay to make mistakes… If you go out there and think you can tell people what to do and give technical fouls out, that’s not how you get better.
Q: Since 2007, you’ve been refereeing the pro-am Drew League in Los Angeles where some NBA players stay in shape during the summer. What was that experience like?
A: I sat and watched Kevin Cutler, Micheal Houston, Cliff Simms and all of the veteran referees for two years before I even got out on the floor. It was just that intense. I was scared but I got thrown out there and once I got into the game I actually really enjoyed it because I was challenged.
Q: Did they treat you differently because you’re female?
A: Absolutely not. Those guys out there don’t care if you’re male or female. They just see a referee. If you get your plays wrong, they’ll tell you.
Q: While you worked your way up through the ranks and into NCAA women’s basketball, did you ever set out to be a Division I men’s ref?
A: It never occurred to me that I wanted to work men’s college. The opportunity was never there. and I’d never seen another female ref, so it was never a goal of mine. I really enjoy men’s basketball, so I just figured I ref Drew League and that would be my fix. But the opportunity presented itself, and it just so happens that I was ready.
Q: Do you think it’s important to have female referees for men’s sports in the NCAA?
A: I think it’s important to have any referee that can do the job, male or female.