How NBA referee Ashley Moyer-Gleich dealt with F-bombs and B-words to earn respect in a man's world
By David Jones | [email protected]
By David Jones/PennLive

Camp Hill resident Ashley Moyer-Gleich is in her second month as the fourth-ever female NBA referee. The former Cedar Crest and Millersville guard wasn't planning to be a ref at all but a college coach. Now she laughs in amazement at how quickly it's all happened. At just 31, she's become the fastest-rising young official in the game's modern history.

Earlier this month, I spoke to her by phone in Indianapolis on the eve of her ninth game as an NBA ref -- about her meteoric rise, how she's changed her approach to deal with players who've tested her, and exactly what she loves about a job that's a dream from which she never wants to awaken.

In February of 2016, Ashley Moyer-Gleich was a 28-year-old officiating a Division III women's basketball game at Lancaster Bible College when two men she'd never met knocked on the door to the officials' dressing room. She answered. They asked if they could speak with her.

Al Battista and J.B. Caldwell were talent scouts. They had shown up early to check out the officials working the prior game of a doubleheader at the gym, a men's game with men's officials. They had not expected to stick around or what they saw. But they were so intrigued by this young woman running the game with an athletic confidence and skill that they had a proposition on the spot.

Moyer-Gleich as a starting senior guard for Millersville in 2009. Millersville Univ.
Moyer-Gleich, a former Cedar Crest High School and Millersville University guard, was up until that point, using her officiating gig pretty much as a means to an end. She had earned a bachelor's degree in biology and a Masters in sports management from Millersville. She was an adjunct professor at Messiah College teaching a course in Sport & Wellness.

And though she had without question caught the refs' bug and had a dream of one day reffing at the Division I women's college level, she had by no means yet committed to it as a career.

But Caldwell, head of operations for NBA officiating, had a question for her that changed all of that:

"He asked me, 'Did you ever think about being an NBA referee?'"

Moyer-Gleich still has to chuckle a little at her own reaction:

"I was like, 'What? What are you talking about?'"

Less than three years later, that's exactly what she's doing. Moyer-Gleich is an NBA ref. The Lebanon native, now living in Camp Hill with her college-referee husband, is in the middle of her first season officiating the greatest basketball players – and arguably the greatest athletes – in the world.

Moyer-Gleich huddles with NBA crew members Jason Phillips (left) and Karl Lane (right) during a timeout. Getty Images
And she is laughing a lot. First, because she's having a hard time believing what she's suddenly doing for a living. And then because she's having so much fun doing it.

Far from the dour and persnickety stereotype of a major-league official, Moyer-Gleich fairly bursts with personality in person. She laughs reflexively. She is, by her own account, a happy, empathetic and forgiving person, living amid a strict professional world of rules and enforcement.

The incongruity of it is probably enough to sprout a smile in anyone who first chats with her and then discovers what she does for a living. It's like meeting a breezy travel writer who's also a beat cop.

But the common denominator of what makes her a living and what makes her happy is simple. It's her favorite game:

"I've always just loved basketball. But I loved to play it. I wasn't sitting in the house watching it very often."

Ashley at age 10 with her father Dave after winning MVP of a travel league holiday tournament in 1997 in Manheim Twp.
Moyer-Gleich, daughter of Dave Moyer, a former Lebanon High teammate of eventual NBA center Sam Bowie, was a starting combo guard for a Millersville team that made it to the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 her senior year in 2010. Her teenage aspiration was to be a sports-medicine physician or a coach.

But a serendipitous encounter with an officiating class, suggested by her college coach as a primer to be a better coach herself, led to a change in plans.

And very quickly – as fast as any modern NBA official has ever progressed through the training ranks of the NBA's minor "G-League" and WNBA women's league to the bigs – Moyer-Gleich has become one of the officials of a game the world watches.

"Some of the things I get to see these players do with their athleticism, it's incredible," she said by phone before a recent NBA game in Indianapolis. "The speed, the power, the strength, the agility. And the finesse of basketball.

"It all intrigues me. The offenses, the defenses. I love it all so much."

How she got from there to here so quickly is a story of a friendly and inquisitive little girl who was taught the game by her father and perseverance by her mother. What sprouted, unknown to either, was the fourth-ever female NBA referee, following league pioneer and recently retired Violet Palmer (1997-2016), dismissed current NCAA ref Dee Kantner (1997-2002) and current NBA official Lauren Holtkamp (2014-present).
Moyer-Gleich discusses a foul call with Pacers point guard Cory Joseph. Getty Images
"Ashley always had a certain fearlessness about her," said her mother Patty Roman. "She never sought the spotlight, but she was never afraid of it either."

Good officials share just such dual quality. The best walk an unseen and undulating ridge between stealthy and evident, weaving between each depending upon the flow of a game.

"She was never afraid to be the first one to try something or step out of her comfort zone," Roman added, "even if she maybe was scared or nervous inside. She just did it anyway."

Any spectator sport is ultimately for the fans. And so, the way officials manage it has a great impact on its enjoyment. Badly officiated games aren't just inequitable for the players and coaches, they spoil the show for the audience.

The main difference between the good refs and the not-so-great is that those who love the game, as a player or fan does, tend to manage it better. It's like the difference between a police officer who treats every event by the letter of the law and one who genuinely loves his community and cares about its people.
The best refs don't simply enforce rules. They are caretakers of the game. The ones who really love the game are just better at their jobs.
In that way, Moyer-Gleich clearly has a leg up:
- "There are so many great qualities and characteristics I've learned just from playing basketball. And now it's my job, my career. I'm so lucky."
When I asked exactly what she loves about basketball and officiating it, I could hear her the smile in her voice over the phone. I thought of the teenage reporter asking the rock star what he loves about music at the end of Almost Famous. He pauses for a moment and then says, "Everything."
Moyer-Gleich began listing all the ways:

"I love the control of what I do now like the way I loved being a point guard. Which is sort of funny, because we can't control what the players are going to do. So, it's probably more psychological. Thinking I'm in control. But really, at the end of the day, I'm probably not."

And then there's the spectacle of it:

"Part of the advice I've gotten from veteran referees, the guys who've been doing this for 20 years, is, they'll tell you, 'When you go out there, take a second and soak it in.'

"You can't do it during the games because you're so busy. But before and hopefully after when we get to say, 'Job well done,' we get to relish what we do and how lucky we are."

Ashley Moyer-Gleich discusses a call with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Getty Images

She admits having done just that. Earlier this month, Moyer-Gleich did her first game with the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at once. The game's greatest active coach and greatest active player, simultaneously – the Spurs' 5-time NBA champion head coach Gregg Popovich and 3-time champion and de facto annual player of the year, LeBron James.

"I always have the butterflies in my stomach before these games. But there's a little extra when you referee the studs."

This has happened to a young woman who became involved in officiating almost by accident and not until just seven years ago. In 2012, she was not quite 25, studying for her Masters and was the grad assistant for the Millersville women's team.

In her plans was to apply for an assistant coaching job with a women's program. So, Millersville coach Mary Fleig suggested she take a test for officials in order to learn the game better. Included was a 6-week course that featured officiating an AAU under-13 age-group game.

The then-Ashley Moyer with future husband and fellow ref Johnee Gleich after she was assigned to the 2013 Mid-Penn Conference high school championship.
That's all Moyer-Gleich needed to catch the bug:

"I just fell in love with it. There was this power that came over me where I was able to teach the players as I learned myself – that's a foul, this isn't. I learned the game all over in a completely different capacity. I had played and coached, but here I was relearning the game from the viewpoint of the rules. Going from a player to a referee, you think you know the rules, but you don't. It consumed me."

That was it. Moyer-Gleich applied to be a PIAA girls official, passed the test and became a Mid-Penn Conference ref.

During her training, she was shadowed by a young PIAA boys ref named Johnee Gleich. Shadowed very effectively, by all evidence. They were married 3 ½ years ago. Gleich currently works NCAA men's D-I games in the Atlantic 10, Northeast, Colonial and Big South conferences.

Moyer-Gleich lofts the opening tip of the 2016 NCAA Division III national championship.
NCAA photo
The next summer, she worked her first Division III college camp and was subsequently hired to work D-III women's games during the 2013-14 season. A year later, she was doing D-II women's games in the PSAC and Mountain East. And by 2015-16, she was hired to work D-I women's games in the MAAC and in March was chosen to do the D-III women's national championship game in Grand Rapids, Mich.
So, every year, she's climbed another rung. She had no agent and no special connections. She was just so good that she was consistently noticed.

And that's when Battista and Caldwell saw and noticed her – and made the offer that changed her life and started her first entrée into officiating grown men, the G-League.

The irony of all this was not lost on her. Here she was a 28-year-old woman who had stumbled into officiating as a side gig to make a little extra coin on the way to being a coach. She'd only been reffing in any capacity for 4 years and had barely worked with males at all. Meanwhile, some men alongside her had been officiating almost as long as she'd been alive, their sole objective to someday work in the NBA:

"I didn't even watch the NBA. I was just a fan of basketball. So, learning the nuances, the rules, of a grown-man's game… I had no clue."

But Battista and Caldwell weren't the only NBA administrators who believed in her. She had a powerful person in her corner.

As had Battista, the NBA's director of referee performance, and perhaps the most well-known basketball official in the world, had noticed her amid the mad scramble and relative chaos of AAU summer camps. And Joe Crawford liked what he saw:

"You could see she just had it. She had strength. She could run. Nothing bothered her. Nothing fazed her. You could see it, in like, 10 minutes."

Why is that important?

"Because if I can see it, the players and coaches can see it. It's an acceptance thing. A believability thing. And she just had it.

"I've seen her in a lot of different venues now – G-League, WNBA, NBA. And she carries herself as a pro. She is a pro."

Moyer-Gleich (right) as part of a historic all-female G-League crew with Clare Aubry (left) and Toni Patillo (center) on Nov. 18.
Moyer-Gleich was fast-tracked into the higher echelon of the 200 or so refs basically trying out during April AAU camps, observed and taught by NBA officials during Thursday-Sunday long weekends split between classroom and games.

Not quite believing the level at which she was now, her goal was simply to be a better ref. Her basic outlook was: "This will make me a really good college official."

But the NBA observers loved her. Not only on the court, but a particular answer she gave during a classroom talk. The candidates were asked what their ultimate goals were. Many said they wanted to be NBA or WNBA officials.

Moyer-Gleich's answer: "I said I wanted to be a sponge."

Not an ambition to gain a major-league level. Merely an aspiration simply to be better.

"It was a big adjustment. Learning that dynamic, being a female in a male-dominated world. So, the first half of my first G-League season was very difficult."

Battista helped her with regular videotape sessions, attempting to "speed up her eyes" and get her to react more quickly to the upgrade in pace of the pro game. But that wasn't the half of it. There was an intimidation factor going on with grown males:

"I had players smack the ball out of my hands. I had players tell me, 'You don't know what you're talking about, bitch."

Not only was Moyer-Gleich being tested because she was a woman, she was dealing with some feral cats, the vast majority of whom will never see an NBA court but merely the hopeless squalor of minor-league outposts like Fort Wayne, Ind.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and McAllen, Texas.

Moyer-Gleich's empathetic side wanted to understand their frustration: "These guys have very little to lose compared with NBA players. One G-League coach told us [during an officiating seminar]: 'It's like jail. All the players are trying to get out.

"And that's how they act sometimes. They can be crazier than anything I've experienced so far in the NBA. It was a struggle at first dealing with those personalities."

Recently retired referee Joey Crawford, who worked 50 NBA Finals and 313 NBA Playoffs games during a 40-season pro career, has given Moyer-Gleich the thumps-up as a rising officiating talent.
Getty Images
In order to deal, Moyer-Gleich had to adjust her own personality which she says tends toward deferential and kind and accommodating:

"So, it was very difficult for me to pull out this persona – I'm a tough broad. Don't mess with me. I'll put you in your place.

"I had to learn quickly how to flip that switch on. They were just going to keep testing me until I stood up for myself and stood my ground and used my authority – within the rules and being fair."
Moyer-Gleich said she had many more experienced referees help her out with advice. But none was a more important mentor than Ray Acosta, then a 4th-year G-League official, now an NBA ref, too. He advised a method for dealing with unruly players:

"He called it, 'Pulling out my inner bitch.' It was difficult for me to learn how to do that. Because it's not who I am in regular life."

But she compartmentalized her on-court persona as business, part of doing her job. Once she delivered a few technical fouls – especially when players used the "F-word" in appraisals of her calls – the recalcitrance magically evaporated.
While her partners tried to separate a scuffle between the Bulls' Robin Lopez (top cluster) and the Thunder's Jerami Grant (bottom cluster) on Dec. 17 in Oklahoma City, Moyer-Gleich (left) called in an arena security guard (gray jacket) just in case. She texted the next day: "[Thunder coach] Billy Donovan said I shoulda got the game ball signed for my first scrum. ... I can laugh now. I was not laughing last night!"
Moyer-Gleich only reached that threshold after a memorable play in the middle of her first G-League season. She had absorbed a player yelling, "That's a f---ing foul!" without reacting. Using an F-bomb in any way addressing an official is understood as unacceptable. But the rookie let it go:

"I didn't handle it. A more veteran referee had to come over and handle it right in front of me. Which, when someone comes over and does something over the top of you like that, it makes you feel about as tiny as an ant."

And her boss, G League officiating supervisor George Toliver, was at the game. He summoned her to a post-game meeting and basically echoed Acosta's advice.

The next night, Moyer-Gleich T'd up three different players. She spoke with Toliver and told him what happened. His essential feedback: Well done.

The next time she saw the F-bomb-ranting player, he actually apologized.
In 2017, Moyer-Gleich was designated for the "enhanced" referee track, the top 15 or so G-League officials that NBA brass feel are headed for the big league. They are paid more. They get a guaranteed 50 games, half as crew chief. And they are clearly being studied for the possible jump to the NBA.

Then, Moyer-Gleich was hired to also work WNBA games during the past summer. Finally, on Nov. 15, she got the call that she was being brought up to the bigs – along with Natalie Sago – as the fourth- and fifth-ever female NBA referees.

Was she surprised?

"I was pretty freakin' shocked, yeah. I mean, this is the fastest that anyone has gone from the G to the NBA – two years."

One of the first calls she made was to Crawford who had helped with her craft through the past year, going over her tapes and guiding her progress:

"I said, 'I just wanted to tell you, I got the call. And I adore you!' He laughed and said, 'I adore you, too.' [She giggled at the giddy memory.] And I said, 'Not as much as I adore you!'"

And somewhere in that delirious haze, she called her mother. Patty Roman is still processing it all more than a month later:

"Ashley always had the maturity to pivot and believe. It's now led down an interesting path.

"As her mom, I find it surreal. Watching her grow up and seeing the passion she had for playing basketball and/or anything else to do with it, and being all-in. And now seeing her not only work at what's her passion, but also maybe create a legacy.

"What mom wouldn't love that? I can't imagine anything more wonderful for a parent to see for their child."

Ashley toasting the news that she'd made it to the NBA with her mother Patricia Roman.
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Organized by FIBA referee, Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences – Fedor Dmitriev with support from MOFB (local federation) and Russian Basketball Federation (RBF)
May 18-22, 2019 in Dzerzhinsky, Moscow Region
It's a well-known fact that camps for young referees regularly take place in Moscow Region. They are organized by FIBA referee, Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences – Fedor Dmitriev with support from MOFB (local federation) and Russian Basketball Federation (RBF). This time the camp took place on May 18-22 in Dzerzhinsky, Moscow Region during Qualification to Russian U15 Championship and was attended by more than 40 referees from different parts of the Russian Federation from Omsk to Kursk and from St. Petersburg to Rostov-on-Don.
Good accommodation, sports infrastructure and lecture room provided by local "Orbita" sports school let the referees to study and practice from early morning till late evening. It is worth noticing that every morning started from intense outdoor athletic practice (for more than 2 hours!). During the clinic participants took several physical tests
including FIBA Fitness test, Cooper test and had lots of 3PO practice.
After morning exercise young referees attended lectures before the start of the games. There were usually a couple of lectures. The topics were: "Unsportsmanlike foul", "Technical foul", "Traveling", "Game control and management", "Individual officiating technique", "3PO mechanics" and many others. Also, there were theoretical tests including FIBA rules test and video (20 clips) and mechanics test.
Then guys have had an opportunity to apply new knowledge into practice. Tough and equal games officiated in 3PO were observed by instructors. Top RFB referees Semen Ovinov, Evgeniy Ostrovskiy, Ivan Bakhteyev, Alexey Revenko, Sergey Fakhritdinov and RFB commissioner Anton Zhuk visited the clinic this time. Having feedback from experienced colleagues with the help of videos from games was a good opportunity to improve and develop skills. Such experience was very valuable and useful both for those who start and pursue their referee careers.
At the end of every day there was a meeting with group discussion of interesting moments from games and nominations for the next ones. Each participant successfully passed all the tests and requirements and was awarded a certificate as well as individual recommendations.
Camp pour des arbitres à Dzerzhinskiy
Le Département de l'Éducation des arbitres à l'aide de la Fédération Russe de Basketball (RBF) et de la Fédération de Basketball de la région Moscovite organise des Camps pour des jeunes arbitres. Fedor Dmitriev — arbitre international, instructeur FIBA et candidat ès sciences pédagogiques — dirige l'organisation du Camp qui a eu lieu de 18 à 22 mai non loin de Moscou, à Dzerzhinskiy. La Qualification au Championnat de la Russie U15 est servie de base pratique : les participant ont travaillé sur les matchs.

Les conditions de séjour, l'infrastructure sportive et la salle pour les conférences accordées par l'école de basket locale « Orbita » favorisaient le dur travail des participants dès petit matin jusqu'au soir. Il est à noter que les matins commençaient par plus de deux heures d'exercices physiques en plein air : échauffement, test Métronome, test de Cooper et entraînement des mécaniques 3PO.

Après avoir fini les exercices, les arbitres viennent au gymnase pour assister aux conférences théoriques qui dureraient jusqu'au début des matchs.

Les participants se mettent à appliquer leurs nouvelles connaissances sur le terrain. Les matchs intéressants arbitrés en 3PO sous la surveillance des instructeurs qui sont des arbitres actuels c'est une brillante possibilité de perfectionner son arbitrage.

Les remarques et conseils fondées sur les vidéos et observations sont un clé nécessaire pour des jeunes referees qui commencent leur vie d'arbitre.

Chaque journée a été finie par la réunion générale à l'hôtel ou on a dressé le bilan et a annoncé les désignations pour le lendemain. Les observateurs du Camp étaient :
Semen Ovinov (ex-arbitre FIBA, actuel arbitre de l'Euroleague et du VTB), Evgeniy Ostrovskiy (instructeur national FIBA), Ivan Bakhteev et Aleksey Revenko (VTB tous les deux) etc.

Les cinq jours du Camp ont permis aux jeunes arbitres, avant de passer des testes sur le Règlement FIBA et un vidéo-test sur 20 clips, d'assister aux conférences sur « la Faute Antisportive », « le Marcher », « Contrôle et administration du jeu », « Mécaniques 3PO ».

Tous les participants ont reçu non seulement des Certificats prouvant qu'ils ont passé le Camp, mais aussi des recommandations individuelles qui aideront à améliorer leur niveau d'arbitrage.
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