Like anyone else involved in soccer, Kevin Terry dreams of the World Cup, the latest edition of which is now just a year away. He won’t be selected to go to Brazil in 2014, but he might have a shot at future events.
His goal, however, is not to score a goal on the game’s grandest stage.
Terry currently is part of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which is responsible for managing the referee and assistant referee program in professional soccer leagues in the United States and Canada. His aim is to one day call games at the international level.
“I am considered a fourth official in Major League Soccer, which is the person that handles the benches and is also the reserve referee if the head referee or anyone on the crew gets injured,” he said. “… I got into refereeing at a very young age. I started when I was 11 or 12 just for fun as kind of a summer job. My mom was actually the local referee assigner who assigned games so I got to referee a lot growing up.”
He also got to see how it was done.
His father, Kevin Terry Sr., was a FIFA referee, the highest level of the trade, for seven years. The elder Terry also refereed in the MLS for a number of years, including its inaugural season in 1996.
“He was into it big time,” the son said. “He did two MLS finals games and also did some World Cup qualifying matches.”
Kevin Terry began to play the game when he was four years old in Dallas. He was good enough that he earned a scholarship to Lipscomb University in 2004.
He has shown similar promise as a referee. He is one of 11 employed by MLS at his position, which he views as a stepping-stone to becoming one of the league’s 20 referees.
“It wasn’t something that I said growing up that I want to be a professional soccer referee, but I saw my dad do it and when other people besides my parents told me to do it, I felt like it was something that I had the opportunity to do,” Terry said.
The 27-year-old said the pace of pursuit of refereeing as a profession slowed during his playing days at Lipscomb, but regained momentum after he finished school and he began to get serious about it.
He taught at Hillsboro High School for two years and was the soccer coach for three. During that time, he traveled on weekends to tournaments around the country in Phoenix, Florida and Dallas.
“People started saying I was pretty good and said I should start doing tournaments,” Terry said. “I continued to upgrade to higher levels and it all kind of fell into place.”
He now teaches physical education at Whitsitt Elementary as he works to move up the officiating ranks.
Before referees get to the PRO level, they must recertify every year through a weekend course, which usually consists of lectures, written tests and a fitness test.
“When you get to the professional level, we have a three or four-day preseason camp in January in Florida for the referees just as the players have a preseason camp,” Terry said. “There is a fitness test, we watch videos and go over what is expected of us, what our points of interest are when we are working games.”
He also said they have an online fitness database and fitness trainer who constantly sends them stuff to keep up with.
“They keep up with us using heart rate information that we send in so it is pretty intense,” Terry said. “I would say that it is definitely the same fitness requirements as a player because as a referee you don’t get subbed out.”
Terry is now in his second year as a MLS fourth official. He learns by watching the referee on the field. When he is not working MLS matches, he serves as a referee in other leagues.
“Becoming a FIFA referee is my goal, it would be like filling my dad’s shoes,” Terry said. “I want to attain what my dad did and try to do better. I know it probably won’t happen next year or the next, but three to five years is my goal, but you have to take baby steps.”
The job requires quick decision-making, and on the field he doesn’t have the benefit of watching a replay like a TV viewer does.
He does, however, have direct access to someone who has done the job. He relies heavily on tips from his father, whether through conversation or observation.
“I watched how he communicated on the field with the players,” Terry said. “He wasn’t the referee that had that straight face and looked mad, he was smiling, showing that he was enjoying his job and I try to incorporate that into my game. If I do that, I feel like the players see that and feed off of me.”
He recently got a good taste of what it is like to be a referee on a big stage when he worked an international tournament in Toulon, France. He and his two assistants were the only ones there who weren’t FIFA referees.
His assignments included games between the under-21 teams from Belgium, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria.
“From that I learned the way to work with the players and talk with the players,” he said. “Some of those teams didn’t speak English so I learned how to communicate with the whistle and facial expressions. I practiced the movement of the referee on the field and the technical stuff like that as well.
“It was good because we were getting compared with the other referees and we did very good. We had the mindset that it was sort of our World Cup.”
For now, that’s good enough.