Referee is calm in eye of tennis storm

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People have yelled and sent dirty spiteful letters to Patti Bowman, but she claims that it's just part of the job.

She isn't referring to the specialty advertising business she has with her husband Richard. Bowman was talking about her part-time job as a tennis referee.

Bowman, a resident of the Pinery in Parker, has been a referee with the Colorado Tennis Umpires Association for the past 18 years and works college, junior, Colorado Tennis Association and Special Olympics tournament. She recently worked June 15-23 at Denver City Open at the Denver Tennis Club.

“I don't do it for the money,” said Bowman, who earns $100 for an eight-hour shift. “It's kind of in my backbone, as they say. I just really enjoy it. It's a long season, there are a lot of hours. We are sometimes on our feet 10-12 hours a day, four or five days in a row. Once I'm here, I love watching.”

Bowman, 58, is a former racquetball player who migrated to tennis.

“I started playing tennis when I was 40,” Bowman said. “I played off and on recreationally. In racquetball, I competed a lot. So I thought I'd better learn the rules of tennis. I attended class because I didn't want to play in any women's leagues and not know the rules. One of the hardest things was learning the rules.

“I looked into refereeing and joined the (umpires') organization and they started booking me.”

Referees in tennis ensure competition is fair under International Tennis Federation rules. Referees have the final say in questions of tennis law, help directors with tournament draws, suspend play because of weather and other conditions, reside over medical timeouts and control the conduct of players, coaches and spectators.

“Any kind of tournament should have a head referee,” explained Bowman. “ When I do the state in September at Gates, we have three because they have a lot more courts and they are spread out.

“As the head referee I have to be in charge of helping the tournament director set up the brackets, because everything falls on my shoulders. If somebody is late, I put the clock on them, there are penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct and the defaults are all on the referee. The final decisions are all on our shoulders. Sometimes they are not real fun, but we have to do it.”

In tournaments like the Denver City Open, which Bowman worked with a deputy referee, most of the courts are easily visible, so matches can be watched. Until the finals, players make line calls, which can lead to disputes.

“I'm on the mentoring committee and we train as much as we can,” said Bowman. “So I exaggerate to not let it escalate. We are there but we shouldn't be intrusive. We should be visible so they are more conscious about line calls, don't have any discussions with the player, be civil and call them if you see them.

“You've got to know the rules, you have to be firm and call them like you see them. You have to be unbiased, yet you have to be a friend, you're there to help. I always get a lot of questions. People come up to me and say, `I have a question for you, this happened to me last night.' I like to document and give the person a reference just to make sure they know what I'm talking about.”

Bowman, who also doubles sometimes as a chair umpire, roved around the Denver Tennis Club facility checking on matches.

“The players know who I am,” said Bowman. “The players know what I will tolerate. I will call foot faults, behavior and cautions. I could be walking down this way and somebody will cuss. I'll walk over to the fence and give them a real dirty look and they'll say `sorry about that.'

Bowman is used to verbal abuse from players and spectators. Some of the worst offenders are parents and college coaches.

“You are always going to get yelled at,” she said. “I get dirty letters. I've seen players get out of control. A lot of times they will see an official on the court and they will watch themselves. If there is a scoring dispute, I'll call them to the net. I'll casually walk over because a lot of times they will work it out themselves if I give them a little time.

“I'll get yelled at, I'll just call the score out and say serve it up. Some balls are way in or out and you have to call it. They (the players) are going to be in denial and blame you. They are going to blame the official for losing. I'll just say the ball was out, serve it up. One more word and you're out of here.

“I get players that come up and kid me, `remember when you called this.' We're here to help. The last six or seven years maybe more players seem to feel at ease with us on the court.”

Bowman recalls that a few years ago, one avid tennis player with a strong personality used to get upset with his opponents and was eventually suspended by the Colorado Tennis Association for repeated code violations.

“When he came back and started playing again, he would warm up and then come get me to bring him to the court,” said Bowman. “He knew I wouldn't tolerate his bad behavior and he kept calm. He would get me so I would keep him calm.”