Sandy’s wide world of sports
Sandy Forand is packing her bags once again.
The 60-year-old Welland native, who has traveled the globe as a basketball referee and softball umpire, is heading to Abu Dhabi next month as a basketball official for the World Special Olympics.
Forand is one of 12 officials from all over the world to be invited.
“It’s so rewarding and so interesting,” Forand said. “You understand truly what it’s all about and it makes you feel so good to be doing that.
“It’s an honour to do that and represent them.”
Forand has done three previous Special Olympic Games in China, Greece and Los Angeles.
“When I got to the first one in China, I just cried,” she remembered. “I thought it was the best thing in sport that I have ever done in my life.
“I was raised with a special needs aunt so it all fits together.”
Forand, who is an educational assistant at St. Denis Elementary School in St. Catharines, loves everything about being involved with the Special Olympics. It’s where players with developmental disabilities are put into eight levels of competition so they can participate in a level of play which is enjoyable for them.
Forand began her work with Special Olympics when she hooked up with a supervisor at an officiating camp from the United States, who asked her if she would be interested.
“I was former NCAA for 12 years and gave a lot back to the game. I work with special needs kids and I coach Special Olympic basketball so it kind of all just rolled in,” she said.
Forand said she tries to stay a few extra days when she goes on the trips in an attempt to see and learn as much as she can. She admitted that may not be possible on this trip. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
“When we go into different counties you really have to immerse yourself and be accepting of cultures,” she said. “This will be a really big one because it’s not exactly favouring women in a certain light. You have to be careful how you manage the game and be aware of religious differences.”
She remembers a particularly tough game in Los Angeles where cultures clashed.
“There were two teams from counties that didn’t respect women and they put three women on the game,” she said almost in disbelief. “It was difficult. Coaches couldn’t communicate with you, they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t even make eye contact.”
On the other side of the coin, she loved her experience in China, although, she said her group was followed each night my local officials.
“High school students learned the language of the team they were assigned to so they would be able to communicate,” she said.
Forand began officiating 45 years ago as a 15-year-old student at Centennial High School. She played in a church league and her aunt was already an official, which made the transition easier.
She then began to attend referee camps in Canada and the United States where she was discovered by a supervisor. Two days later, she was at Rutgers University trying out and ended up officiating 12 years at the NCAA Division 1 level in three conferences.
“It was an incredible experience,” she said.
She continues to referee locally at the elementary, high school and college levels and also does some evaluating.
“I love it. The exercise is phenomenal,” she said. “I know a lot of officials get burnt out. I’m not a referee who does it for the money.
“I make sure I’m doing a good job when I am out there because the players and coaches deserve to have the best official they can have.”
She has gained respect from coaches and players for her professional attitude on the court.
“Sometimes I make a mistake and coaches realize that but they also know I work hard,” she said.
In the summer months, Forand switches to the diamond where she is a Deputy Umpire in Chief for Softball Canada and also helps off the field evaluating umpires.
“I still umpire all summer but you also have to make room for younger officials so I’m in more of a supervisory capacity,” she said. “That is the fun of sports. There is always room to have a place for you. I’m helping write manuals and giving back to the game.”
She can’t image not being involved with either spot in some capacity.
“As long as I can contribute in a positive way,” she said when asked how long she wants to continue.
“Officiating as a female, it’s very challenging and can be hard for women to stay but it’s taken me everywhere. What better way to go than sports? You can make a way in sports that can take you around the world and get paid doing it.”
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