A local woman will be refereeing Olympic basketball in Tokyo—here’s her story

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Kansas City resident and Olympics basketball referee Amy Bonner/Photo by Steve Gibson

Despite being called “one of the most recognized officials in the world” by the International Basketball Federation, referee Amy Bonner has managed to stay under the radar at home in Parkville. Until now, that is. Last year, she became the first female ref to officiate a Big 12 men’s game. This month, she’ll be on the court for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

How did you become a referee?

I was a poor track athlete at the University of Missouri in need of spending money but unable to take on a full-time job. A friend suggested I referee recreational games on weekends. I only made ten dollars a game at the time, but I was hooked. After working as a physical therapist for fifteen years, my officiating career took off and I was able to do it full time.

What’s the best moment you’ve had in a game?

I’ve worked the WNBA, men’s college, world championships. Every game is different. But one thing never changes: There’s no greater feeling than making a tough call, having twenty-five thousand people boo you and knowing you got it right.

What makes someone a great referee?

You have to recognize the personalities and dynamics of your crew and support them, just like any leadership role. Of course, none of that matters if you don’t get the calls right.

How does a referee get past making a bad call?

I spend a lot of time studying game video to analyze why a call was missed. When you get it wrong, it’s hard to forget—especially if it’s in those crucial last two minutes of a close game. But when you make a call and you know you nailed it, that keeps you going. Even though we all know a perfect game is impossible, we are a competitive group of ex-athletes, so we’re always looking to improve.

You work both men’s and women’s games. Which is harder?

The WNBA is the hardest league I’ve ever worked. They’re athletic, skilled and constantly fighting for position. Men are faster, bigger and stronger, but the women are more tenacious, and every matchup is competitive. It’s really a challenge to get your eyes to the right spot all the time.

Why are you excited to represent the U.S. as a referee at the Olympics?

It’s not so much about basketball; it’s more about coming together. Professional referees are such a diverse group of people. We have the chance to be ambassadors and bring people of all different cultures, religions and sexual orientations together. That acceptance and inclusivity is so unique. This job expands my view of the world. It makes me a better human.

What’s your advice to other women who want to become referees?

Understand that it won’t be easy or fair, embrace that, and work hard. And believe that you can do it.

What’s next?

Because of refereeing, I have friends all over the world. I’m ready to travel again to catch up with them. I’ve worked two women’s NCAA Final Fours, and now that I’ve switched to men’s NCAA, I’d love to work that tourney as well. Also, the next Men’s World Championship is in 2023. A female referee has never been invited, so it would be fun to change that.

Categories: People, Sports