The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Established in the name of two of USA Rugby's most accomplished referees and long-time administrators, Denis Shanagher and Don Morrison, the Shanagher Morrison Referee Fund is a scholarship program aimed to develop aspiring rugby referees from the United States on the international level. The fund allows scholarship recipients to spend a season abroad in a tier-one rugby nation, learning invaluable skills and training from some of the game's best officials. The Shanagher Morrison Referee Fund covers all costs including travel, lodging, tuition and living expenses, and also funds promotional activities after the recipients return, all thanks to generous supporters through USA Rugby Trust.

USA Rugby Trust spoke with Referee Development Manager Marc Nelson to learn more about this prestigious program.

USA Rugby Trust: What is your role at USA Rugby?

Marc Nelson: I'm the Referee Development Manager. I'm primarily in charge of developing community-level referees and recruiting and retaining referees across the country. I'm also tasked with supporting local referee organizations and organizing and assigning refs to various competitions.

USART: How long have you been working for USAR?

MN: Three years and two months. I've also been a national referee for four years.

USART: Give me some background information about Shanagher Morrison program.

MN: The Shanagher Morrison Scholarship program was started several years ago in an effort to get referees from the United States more international exposure and opportunities abroad. The first scholarship recipient was Brian Zapp, who went to Christchurch, New Zealand, for a season. He came back with tons of international experience and was later named to the national panel.

Currently we budget opportunities to travel abroad and either to spend a season in New Zealand or to the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where referees are immersed in a university program geared toward refereeing.

USART: Tell me about the individuals who participated this year and their experience.

MN: This year we sent Brett Johnson and Aaron Yappert to the referee academy in South Africa. Both had been identified as developing referees by the high performance management group and are currently earning national referee appointments. The pair left for South Africa in July and spent eight weeks abroad.

USART: If selected, what should a candidate expect out of this experience?

MN: Scholarship recipients will be immersed in a tier-one rugby nation's culture - a culture where the players grew up playing rugby from a very young age and where local teams have up to five to six sides. There is a lot of fitness and physical training involved. There are also various skills sessions to improve skills needed to referee, including the utilization of technology such as a vision lab to improve coordination. There is a lot of hands-on coaching, video review of previous matches and more, all geared toward making the recipients the best referees can be. The program also stresses the importance of camaraderie. Scholarship recipients will be spending 16-18 hours a day with fellow referees traveling to games, supporting each other, bouncing ideas off of one another, constructively criticizing each other. The support and instruction you receive from other referees is one of the unique benefits of the program.

In addition, scholarship recipients will learn life skills off the pitch, which are equally as important to being a successful referee as knowing the laws of the game and being physically fit.

USART: What kind of prior experience or qualities are you looking for in prospective candidates?

MN: Coachability, fitness and rugby knowledge are important. Worth ethic, self-drive and an insatiable desire to get better are also necessary. Even if you don't have lots of referee experience, you should still consider applying. The point of the program is to develop referees.

USART: How can prospective candidates apply?

MN: Candidates can learn more about the scholarship and apply on USARugby.org. Applications must be received by December 23rd, 2016. Selections will be announced January 9th, 2017.

If you would like to contribute to this fund or know of a possible donor who would, please click here and select the Shanagher Morrison Fund from the program dropdown. Your gift will help a talented young referee receive world-class training and experience the season of a lifetime!