Shelly and Shelley
Note: This article includes some excerpts from a Temple Pouncy report in the Dallas Morning News, Feb 13, 1977
When you are talking about top referees in North Texas, you usually talk about three former FIFA officials or three dozen or so former or current National Referees, all male officials. It wasn't until 1975 that one female was included in the list of top officials, when Shelly Whitlock became the first female ever to referee a first-division men's amateur game in North Texas.
Times were different. At a tournament in 1975 she heard a senior referee say, "I don't want any damn female linesman on one of my games."
"The tournament director also heard him," Mrs. Whitlock reported, "and assigned me to his first game. Afterward, the ref apologized to me and said he would take me as lineman any time."
When she refereed her first senior men's game, she narrated, "The players never heard the introduction of the linesmen. They were so stunned that I was in the middle. A woman referee! Good Lord! What's the world coming to?"
Even female players objected to female referees, stating that they want the best referees and that men simply are the best referees.
Then players' attitudes started to change.
"One game, I had to give one caution, but I heard a couple of players say, 'She knows what she is doing.' After the game, a few players said 'Good game, ref,'" she recalls. "That's really what I like about it: the exercise and the feeling of doing a good job.
"Acceptance has come slowly," she continues. "But it has come. I've had a lot of encouragement from the highest-ranking (male) officials in the area. Sometimes I think being a woman can be an advantage because most men are careful to be polite to me."
"Five years ago," observed Tornado player Bobby Moffat at that time, "I would have laughed at women in soccer. Now it's a definite fact. Women officials? Why not, as long as they are good enough."
Shelly didn't achieve her goal to become the first lineswoman in the North American Soccer League (NASL) – the time just wasn't right yet — and it took a few more years until a young lady from California was chosen to run lines in the NASL. It took another 10-plus years for three females to move up as referees in Major League Soccer (MLS).
Today, Shelly is still involved in fitness-related activities. Two more Whitlock family females (pictured above with Shelly) have made themselves known: daughter Wendy Greenberg Odell won six National Championships at the youth (NTX Sting, 2), collegiate (UNC, 1) and amateur (Michelob Ladies, 3) levels, and granddaughter Shelby Odell, who makes herself known on — guess where — the Sting soccer team.
In the meantime, the explosion of female soccer resulted in all-female official crews being used for top-level professional women's games. A number of additional females advanced through North Texas training to officiate top senior amateur games in the area.
Then, all of a sudden last year, the first female National Referee was registered in North Texas. Surprised? In a way, yes, as Shelley Finger was known for years as a goalkeeper — first on a youth team, then on the Duncanville High School team, then through four NCAA Championships with powerhouse University of North Carolina (playing on a team with Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly), a stint in the German Women's Bundesliga (1st Division) and a couple of years playing for a team in the first-ever professional women's league in the U.S.
The combination of a few injuries and a commitment to her new profession as a veterinarian convinced Shelley to concentrate on her second hobby: officiating (which she had dabbled in as a teenager to earn some extra pocket money). Be it as a student, goalkeeper, doctor or referee, Shelley always wanted to learn and advance. It took years of officiating high school, college and top amateur games to be assigned to an assistant referee position in the women's professional league, officiating players who she had competed against as a player just a few years earlier.
The years to get there were not easy, with a demanding full-time job, complicated by the fact that — to the horror of her friends and fellow referees — she continued to play, even after a hospital stay due to an injury, including playing in a National Amateur Championship game.
Now that Shelley established herself in the professional league and earned her national badge, the professional women's league folded — again. The future is uncertain, but what a career!