‘Sole Arbiter’ seminar crafts elite referees one participant at a time

Referees who are serious about honing their craft find their way to the Four Points Sheraton in Ventura, California.

That’s where referee Jack Reiss’ annual three-day seminar “Sole Arbiter” has taken place the last three years, including earlier this month. About 50 refs from around the world took part this year, packing a conference room at the seaside hotel with a thirst for knowledge and passion for the sport they love.

Those in attendance have had some sort of training, mostly in their local jurisdictions or in conjunction with the sanctioning bodies. What’s special about Reiss’ seminar? It’s exhaustive nature.

Boxing Junkie spoke with a number of the attendees. And they all said the same thing when they were asked why they traveled to Southern California and paid $1,250 out of their own pockets to take part: the quality of instruction and the amount of material covered.

Title Boxing provided bags and gloves to the participants of the refereeing seminar.

Some seminars are limited to one day, some even only a few hours. This one lasts 26 hours.

“I believe Jack Reiss is one of the best referees nowadays,” said Leszek Jankowiak, an official who made the trip from Poland. “This is my second year. I was here last year, too. It’s the most comprehensive seminar for referees. That’s it.

“Is there something like it in Europe? No, not at all.”

The seminar was established out of necessity.

Reiss, who has conducted classes for the Association of Boxing Commissions and several sanctioning bodies, was asked by California State Athletic Commission officials to create a new program in part because a number of the state’s top referees were nearing retirement age.

However, Reiss also wanted to give referees like Jankowiak a chance to expand their knowledge base, which he hopes will help establish high standards worldwide.

The format isn’t complicated. He, along with seasoned colleagues Russell Mora (Nevada) and Thomas Taylor (California), as well as guest speakers, project 800 PowerPoint slides on all the key components of refereeing onto a big screen and break them down in minute detail.

Also, they show hundreds of videos depicting actual fights so they can dissect the performance of the referee on the screen, who is sometimes sitting in the conference room.

It’s one thing to discuss what is and isn’t a foul, for example. It’s another thing to discuss it and then see scenarios in professional fights on video to illustrate the point, which invariably leads to a series of questions and edifying answers.

This is what Jankowiak meant when he used the word “comprehensive.”

“This is the top, elite school for referees,” said Diana Drews-Milani, a German-based referee for the Swiss Boxing Federation. “… I like to go to the (sanctioning body) conventions but they are always a one-day referee class. In this one you have three days to go through every scenario and have time to ask everything. You meet all the people, you discuss boxing.

“It’s just really helpful to improve and then you have mentors to talk to later on.”

Reiss provided an example to illustrate his approach to teaching the material.

“We showed a guy getting hit with a low blow,” he said. “We asked the referees [at the seminar] whether the ref was correct in ruling a low blow. Ninety percent said yes. Then we showed it in slow motion from another angle. The reality was that the fighter who was hit pushed his opponent’s head down, which changed the trajectory of punch.

“… We want people to understand what they see. I think that’s the most important thing they walk away with.”

Joel Scobie, a referee from British Columbia, Canada, also mentioned the comprehensive nature of the course but added that it wouldn’t work without knowledgeable instructors.

Reiss estimated that he, Mora (who is retired) and Taylor have worked a combined 2,500 fights, 10% of which had world titles on the line. That means these referees have seen everything along the way.

That experience, combined with the complete curriculum, is what compels both veteran and developing referees to invest their time and money to attend the seminar.

“You’re learning from the very best,” Scobie said. “… A lot of officials, myself included, learn from other officials in their local jurisdictions. You learn to do things based on how the senior guy in your area does things. What you learn here (at Reiss’ seminar) is that instead of mimicking a mechanic that another official taught you, you also learn how to do the mechanic and the why behind every step.

“Once you really understand you can be so much better as a referee.”

The need for such a conference was obvious when Reiss created it, which can be attributed in part to the lack of a central governing body to establish and enforce standards.

The top jurisdictions produce competent officials because of proper training and high expectations. Others often employ referees who aren’t as well equipped to do the job, which can place boxers in danger and damage the integrity of the sport.

Many in the latter group were selected to be officials not because of their qualifications but who they know, one reason Reiss believes the state of refereeing worldwide is “in disarray.”

Can he fix that with his seminars? Of course not.

The idea of “Sole Arbiter” was to create the best possible instructional program and open it to whomever has the desire, time and resources to take part, which creates better refereeing one motivated participant at a time.

“I can only change what I can control,” Reiss said. “… It’s the serenity prayer: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can.’ That’s all we can do.

“I know people are grateful to us for opening up our playbook to them, giving them mentorship. They’re getting something they can’t get where they live.”

Story originally appeared on Boxing Junkie