Tell us a little about yourself: age, place of birth, current occupation.
—Yusef Johnson, 43, Brooklyn NY, aerospace engineer.
What is you background as a rugby player?
—? Playing since 1997, my home club being the Bay Area Rugby Club in Houston, TX.
Why did you decide to become a referee?
—Once I was taking until Thursday to recover after matches, I knew it was time. I fulfilled my true goal of playing competitive rugby until I was 40.
Did you have some kind of mentor?
—I have been lucky to have some very good referee mentors, including Jeremy Turner (a long time USA rugby referee coach/evaluator). Jim Wolfinger and Richard Prim are probably the biggest influences in my development as a referee. Chris Callan and Bernie Price were always around for a coaching report or two.
Do you remember your first game as a referee? How did it go? Any funny or special memory?
—My first match was just dreadful under the circumstances. It was a youth tournament at The Woodlands in Texas. Unfortunately it was the same day as the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. I had gone to the tournament straight from work. Not a good day at all.
What was the most memorable screw up?
—Hmmm… Probably giving a free kick instead of a scrum for an improper restart at a Harlequins/ HARC match. And everybody knew it but me. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that sevens tournament earlier…
Which is the one game you most remember of your career?
—I did a game at the Four Leafs Tournament a few years back where the temperature at gametime was 22 degrees F. I think I still haven’t thawed out yet. As far as gameplay, I did a sevens match in the Las Vegas Invitational in 2010 between the Samurai Rugby Club and Eastside Tsunami. Waisale Serevi’s little brother was on the Eastside team. Never have I seen a rugby player with that much pace. Fastest game that I have refereed in my life. Meeting The Wizard after the match was even better.
How well do players and coaches in Florida know the laws of the game?
—Haven’t been here long enough to know.
What is your opinion in general of the attitude of players towards the referees in Florida?
—See above question…
As a referee, have you made more friends or foes?
—Lots more friends!!
Does being able to watch a game on video help you improve your skills?
—It sort of cuts both ways. Some of the things that the refs do on television will get you skinned alive by evaluators. However, there is no better way to learn to read the flow of a match. It also takes a while to learn not to watch a game as a fan.
What are the most rewardings aspects of being a referee? And the least?
—The ability to stay involved in the game, sans the contact. Also, as a referee of color, I feel I refereeing provides me a platform to assist in trying to get more people of color involved in rugby. The least? The travel and the politics.
If you have had the opportunity to ref a match oversees, how was that experience?
What would you tell a player to encourage him becoming a referee?
—Try to get involved as early as you can. Taking the class made me a better player. Eventually, we all will have to do something other than play.
Any final thoughts or comments about being a rugby referee?
—I’m going to do it as much as I can, as long as I can. And I am already working on the next phase, as I took the Level 1 coaching class last year.