Congratulations to FIFA Assistant Referee Jennifer Garner who was assigned to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Challenge Cup Final. Jennifer lives in Little Elm, Texas and was one of 15 officials, all are in PRO2, invited to work the NWSL Challenge Cup.
NWSL was one of the first professional leagues to bring back games to their fans in a responsible way. Twenty-three games were played over a 34 day period. All games but three were played in Herriman, Utah at the Zion Bank Stadium. Eight of the nine NWSL teams participated in the NWSL Challenge Cup. All games were played at the same venue, same field with exception to the semi and final matches, which were at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
Everyone associated with this event was quarantined in a “bubble” and not allowed to leave or have any physical contact with anyone not in the “bubble”. All players, training staff, officials, caterers and league personnel followed protocol. Social distancing was practiced when in group settings. Masks were required anytime anyone traveled to and from training, matches and meals. For 34 days, this strict, safe protocol was adhered to by everyone.
Referees and assistant referees were required to be tested for Covid-19 prior to leaving their home state. Once they arrived to the “bubble”, they were tested again, as well as three days prior to each game. Jennifer also had to have two more Covid test once returning home.
Jennifer officiated seven games, including the Championship match that was played on July 26 between Chicago Red Stars and Houston Dash. Houston Dash won, 2-0.
Q - Were you assigned to different crews?
Jennifer - “Yes. However, I was lucky to have worked with a couple of officials for multiple games. This helped develop some consistency.”
Q - What was it like being quarantined the entire time?
Jennifer - “We were given very nice accommodations. We stayed in apartments within walking distance of the stadium. We walked to training events and to all of our meals. But on game day, we were driven to the stadium in a golf cart.” I like to be out and about and stay active. It was interesting only being able to go two places for a month. We spent all of our time in the apartment or at the facility where all of our trainings and matches took place and where we picked up all of our meals. We were a close group of referees, which helped. We would get together to watch NWSL matches that we weren’t assigned to. We also enjoyed watching MLS is Back matches once they began playing, playing card games, cornhole and countless beautiful sunsets from our balcony. Another important factor that made the quarantine easier on me was talking and facetiming with Adam and my family.
Q - Was everyone tested regularly?
Jennifer - “Yes, everyone—officials, players, staff and personnel. In those 34 days, not one person tested positive.”
Q - That is very impressive that not one person within the bubble ever tested positive. Would you credit that to everyone’s commitment to protocol and discipline?
Jennifer - “Absolutely! Everyone was committed and dedicated to this event and keeping everyone healthy and safe. It was because of this commitment that we were very cautious and ensured we followed the protocols and procedures created by the NWSL.
Q - I know you will never forget this honor of being part of the crew for the final game. What is one thing about your refereeing during the pandemic on the national stage that stands out?
Jennifer - “I will remember the incredible support Adam, my husband, and my family provided to make it possible for me to attend the event and concentrate on training and matches. They were very supportive of my choice to attend the tournament. I will remember how the group of referees at the event came together as friends and a soccer family to support each other, play card games, eat meals and watch games on tv”.
Left to Right - Tiffini Turpin, Tori Penso, Katja Koroleva, Deleana Quan (reserve AR), Jennifer Garner
In addition to this incredible honor, Jennifer was the recipient of the 2020 North Texas Soccer Dale McGregor Golden Whistle Award. This award acknowledges outstanding individuals that have made great contributions to the game in many aspects at the state and national level.
Recipients are voted on by previous winners. Past recipients include former State, National, and FIFA Referees and trailblazers in female officiating.
Q – How do feel about earning this award?
Jennifer - ”I was in Salt Lake City for the NWSL Challenge Cup when Adam called to tell me that I was awarded the Dale McGregor Golden Whistle Award. I was surprised and overwhelmed by this unexpected honor. I was not fortunate enough to know Mr. McGregor, but I have heard stories of his dedication to the North Texas Soccer referee family. I feel very privileged and proud to be considered and mentioned among such an exceptional group of trailblazers. So many people have supported me and provided guidance throughout my soccer journey. I truly hope that I can provide that same support and guidance for others.