After the 2003 World Cup in Japan, Stephen Pike decided that after 10 Nationals, 3 World Cups, and a ranking of number 2 in the world, the time was right to step away from Refereeing Touch Football and focus on other priorities.
To keep active, he still refereed at his Local Affiliate, Wagga Touch but eventually walked away from the sport when in 2018, his 11-year-old daughter Emily asked him to “teach her how to referee”.
referee. / (ˌrɛfəˈriː) / noun a person to whom reference is made, asked for an opinion, information, or a decision responsible for ensuring fair play according to the rules.
In our sport becoming a Referee is either 1. not the first choice amongst our peers or 2. is notably forgotten when choosing a representative pathway and yet, can be so rewarding in so many ways, but speaking to Emily Pike, the decision to take up Refereeing was an easy one.
“Dad was a high-level Referee before I was born but I always knew that I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
In 2020 Emily attended her first Representative Tournament, the Junior State Cup in Wagga, and right by her side was her very proud father.
“Watching Emily develop as a Referee is very exciting and Junior State Cup was a great opportunity for me to come along and Referee with her,” said Stephen.
But 17 years away from representative Touch is a long time, so we asked Stephen, has the game changed much?
“The game is definitely quicker but teams and referees are now more professional. The game has evolved”
Stephen was the first Referee to be inducted into the NSW Touch Hall of Fame in 2007 (as well as a Touch Football Australia Hall of Fame inductee) Stephen was known as the referee who set the benchmark for others to achieve at park, regional, state, national and international level.
Widely acknowledged as one of the best the game has produced, his reading of play and rapport with players made his control of the game effortless and respected.
He represented NSW at National Championships, NTL, and State of Origin and has officiated international fixtures across the world securing 52 International Caps.
As a parent, Stephen enjoys not only being able to referee on the field with Emily but watching the enjoyment she also gets from the game.
“She’s only 15 years old so I try not to push her too much as I want her to develop at her own pace and achieve things in her own right”
And Emily is definitely heading in the right direction. Talent Identified by the NSW Touch Referees Panel, Emily was recently selected into the Talented Referee Youth Squad (TRYS).
“This is a wonderful concept within NSW Touch to identify and develop up-and-coming referees and I couldn’t be prouder,” said her father
But the question needs to be asked of Stephen, is there a newfound passion for Refereeing?
“I’m loving it. My biggest challenge is keeping my body fit enough and injury-free. When I’m refereeing, I know where I need to be positioned on the field and I’m pushing myself to get there but then my body reminds me of my age!”
“Whilst I really enjoy refereeing with the younger, faster referees and trying to compete with them, I’m grateful for the senior referee’s category that gives opportunities to the older referees with our own pathway that allows us to stay in the game”.
An opportunity arose this year for Stephen to attend the National Touch League, 19 years after his last National Event (where he refereed the Men’s Open final with two of the greats of our game Rick Borg and Adam Foley and finished ranked Australia’s number 2). “I felt like the new kid on the block. Apart from not knowing the majority of the referees there, I also had to learn the latest refereeing techniques and styles. Referee coaching is more technical these days and I’m still on the learning curve to replace some of my old school ways with the latest approach”.
Stephen showed he still can run with the best at the National level being appointed to a Men’s 55s Grand Final. Though disappointed with how he performed he felt the appointment was a fair reflection of where his Referee level currently stands and had no complaints. “Returning to the National level this year has definitely given me the confidence knowing I can still contribute at the highest level and has motivated me to want to come back and try harder next year”.
What Stephen is really looking forward to, is the opportunity to hopefully run one day with Emily at Nationals. “There were a few parent-child combinations within the referees at this year’s event and I could see how proud those parents were to be in that position. If the opportunity presents itself for Emily and I to do likewise in the coming years, wow! To be able to referee a game with my daughter at the National level would be something pretty special”.
Emily is not far off following in her father’s footsteps. Currently a Level 3 Referee she will be aiming for her Level 4 Badge at this year’s State Cup, but as her father has stated “no pressure”.
“She’s a chip off the old block” stated General Manager Dean Russell “And my tip is she will go further than her father. Knowing that she is surrounded by some great Referee mentors helping her to reach her goals is a blessing and I can’t wait to see how far she can go”.
So, will we see the Pike name back in the top 10 of our Referee’s ranks in the near future? “I hope so” Emily stated. “I’m really enjoying Refereeing and I love how you never really know what’s going to happen in a game. I have come to realise that every game of Touch is unique”.
“Dad reminds me that I need to challenge myself. I need to push myself when needed to achieve my goals”.
But it’s not just the Refereeing that Emily enjoys it’s the new friends that both she and her father have formed. “I love going to tournaments as I have met and made so many new friends from all over NSW and I know dad is enjoying being back at events as well as there are still some familiar faces from when he was Refereeing”.
So, what’s the plan for the Pikes?
Well, Stephen has ticked off two achievements this year being a Nationals return and also being selected as a Referee Representative for NSW at this year’s State of Origin.
And Emily? “I have a goal to achieve my Level 4 badge this year and then work towards my Level 6 and be selected for the 2027 World Cup. Hopefully, I’ll be able to referee there with Dad!”
“Currently, I have so many role models that I look up to and I can only hope to be the same sort of role model for younger referees as they start their refereeing career”.