Female Slovakian Official Embraces the World Stage
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Barbara Zelenay tucked her blonde hair into her black cap and jogged onto the field with a purposeful gait. As the chief box official for the much-anticipated Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship opener between the U.S. and Canada, Zelaney, a native of Slovakia, took her position between the benches at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
"Eleven-thousand people watching you, all of your peers watching you, all of your colleagues around the world, friends and family — but as soon as the first whistle goes, it's just another game," Zelenay said. "White plays red."
Graham Lester and Ken Galluccio would be happy to hear Zelenay say that. Lester, the English lacrosse legend who died of a heart attack last December, and Galluccio, one of the driving forces of the growth of the sport in Germany, mentored Zelenay when as a 20-year-old she conceded she could no longer play lacrosse with the rapidly improving Slovakian men.
"As they got better, being a girl with the team, it didn't get easier," said Zelenay, who played defense for the West Caldwell (N.J.) High junior varsity girls' team as an exchange student. "And there were no refs, anyway. So I just did a clinic."
Lester taught the clinic. Galluccio provided the encouragement.
"Quite honestly, in the beginning, I sucked, as any other referee does. But it helped to have around other experienced officials who really teach you, who push you, who pick you up when you get yelled at," Zelenay said. "So I stuck with it and now it's nine years and counting."
Zelenay, now 29 and one of the most experienced officials in mainland Europe, said acceptance from the international men's lacrosse community came slowly. She did a stint in Canada, "to really get yelled at, because you do get used to it," she said.
Zelenay's big break came when she made the crew to officiate the 2010 FIL World Championship in Manchester, England. Two years later, she qualified for the 2012 FIL U19 World Championship in Turku, Finland. Two more years later, and she's front and center at the biggest event in international lacrosse history, maintaining order in the chaotic confines of the box between Team USA coach Richie Meade and Team Canada coach Randy Mearns.
"Yeah, the coaches have big names, and you need to acknowledge them. You need to listen to them. Surely you do," Zelenay said. "You try to explain as much as possible the best you can, and you just go with it."
When she's not massaging egos, Zeleney is a full-time marketing manager at Bosch, the German multinational engineering and electronics company. She still plays lacrosse occasionally, but sticks to stripes when it comes to the men's game.
"I gave up playing men's. There is a reason why these are two different sports. Equality being a big topic, I don't think we are built to do the same things," Zelenay said. "Officiating, it doesn't matter. It's the rule knowledge. It's the game management you have. It's the authority you bring onto the field. It has nothing to do with being female or male."
Zelenay is not the only female official at these world games. Sharon Bamford of England also is a veteran internationally rated official working in her second FIL World Championship.
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