Sharon Arnold is a trail blazer in every sense when it comes to the world of basketball officiating.
In an industry dominated by men for so long, Arnold broke countless barriers to rise through the ranks from local leagues to the biggest competitions the game has to offer.
Growing up in Wangaratta, Arnold enjoyed playing basketball, but the thought of becoming a referee was far from mind.
“I was one of these people that didn’t like referees,” Arnold says with a laugh. “Someone said I would make a good referee, so I went to referee school at 14. It was a bit of pocket money, about $2.50 a game. It was something to do and it just evolved from there.”
To her own surprise, Arnold’s enthusiasm for officiating steadily grew, with her strong personality and communication skills contributing to her success on court. Receiving her A-Grade badge in quick time, the teenager’s long-term goals were still firmly fixed on eventually joining the police force after high school.
Adding to her remarkable story, Arnold is blind in her left eye. That disability ultimately resulted in a failed medical to join the police ranks in which she describes as a gutting blow at the time.
“I said to my father if I ever found something, I was good at nothing was going to stop me doing it and going where I wanted to go,” Arnold recalls. “Someone said I would never go anywhere as a referee because of my disability and I was determined to prove them wrong.”
True to her word, Arnold would sacrifice countless events, zeroing in on expanding her resume as a basketball official. The ascent continued before eventually reaching the WNBL ranks while also becoming the first woman official in the NBL.
To reach that stage alone was an incredible achievement, with several years of experience required to gain a FIBA referee license. Far from done, Arnold was the only woman selected out of 24 named referees to call the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.
“The Sydney Paralympics was the highlight of my life because I would have never expected to get it,” she admits. “Australia was the top ranked teams in the world, and I didn’t think they were going to be beaten in the semi which opened it up for me to do the Gold Medal game.”
“I got the gold medal game, and I was the only woman there which I think helped change a few attitudes. It was a big achievement I thought.”
Along with officiating the 2004 Paralympic games in Athens, Arnold is one of only three Australian women to officiate a FIBA Women’s World Cup after doing so in 2002.
These days, you will find Arnold guiding the referees of the future at Kilsyth Basketball where she is inducted as a Hall of Fame member.
“Being a country girl, I was always taught by my parents that you have to give back,” she explains. “I’ve been all over the world with my basketball refereeing and got paid for going. I think it’s very important for kids having something to do. If I didn’t have basketball and refereeing god knows where I would be.”
“I just love teaching the kids and seeing them improve and get better. My advice to the young girls these days is just get in there and have a go. It’s all a family, the referees at Kilsyth are the best I’ve ever had in the 30 plus years I’ve been involved. All you have to do is get in there and have a go.”
Giving her life to a game and career she loves, Arnold is in no hurry to step away, with Kilsyth likely to be her home for hoops for many years to come.
“Seeing the kids grow is absolutely my reward, it’s my way of putting back into basketball because I appreciate everything I’ve been given. I’ll keep doing it until the day I die.”
Written by Kane Pitman, freelance contributor for Basketball Australia
Image courtesy of Basketball Victoria