Crystal Hogan Blazes A Trail For Women Refs In Men’s College Hoops

In November, Crystal Hogan became the first woman in history to referee a men’s D-I college basketball game when Seattle University met Pudget Sound.

Before Crystal Hogan took the court as a referee during a November men’s D-I Basketball game, the job was strictly gender-based. It was actually easier for a woman to get an NBA gig.

Violet Palmer became the first female referee in NBA history in 2006, shattering the profession’s gender barrier and opening the doors for current women refs such as Lauren Holtkamp.

Hogan, a mother, parole officer and former athlete, is also the only female official in the country working men’s Division I basketball games and the first full-time ref in NCAA Men’s D-I history.

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She’s quietly carrying the banner for all aspiring women referees who are looking to break into men’s D-I college hoops.  

When Hogan got the call from Bobby Dibler, Coordinator for the Western Officiating Consortium, which manages referees for six D-I leagues, she was shocked and shed tears of joy. 

“It was an extremely life-altering phone call,” Hogan told ncaa.com.

Dibler was the Branch Rickey of the situation, the guy with the power to change the exclusive culture of men’s basketball. He offered Crystal the job and the rest is history.

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According to the NCAA’s website, Dibler still vividly remembers Hogan’s reaction.

“I thought she was going to wreck her car,”  Dibler said, recalling that historic day.

Hogan’s journey didn’t happen overnight. She was born and raised in Compton and was a multi-sport athlete in high school. Her hoop skills led her to Compton Community College, where she was the leading scorer before transferring to Long Beach State. She graduated in 2000 with two degrees in psychology and criminal justice.

During that period, Hogan was introduced to officiating and immediately fell in love with it. She credits her start in the profession to longtime NBA official Kevin Cutler.

“I played ball at a pretty high level so it was a way for me to stay involved in the game,” Hogan said. “Once I started doing it in high school, I liked it a lot. It was a way for me to stay involved even though I was still playing on the side. It just became a passion and I kept going further and further by going to camps.”

She started reffing high school games, but says that the high schools were still stuck in a time warp and were hesitant about allowing her to referee boys games. Eventually, she got a gig reffing at the legendary Drew League in Los Angeles in the summer.

“The word up and down the street,” Dibler said, “is if you can work the Drew League, you can work any league.”

Hogan earned her stripes and worked up the ladder;  junior college, Division III,  Division II and Division I women’s basketball. She eventually elevated to  a gig in the NBA D-League for three years, while continuing to juggle her job as a mom and parole officer.  

This past summer, she was invited to work an elite AAU Tournament in Las Vegas. That’s when Dibler first noticed her confidence and natural abilities. 

“There was no doubt on that particular crew who the lead official was, and that was Crystal,” Dibler recalls.

Dibler studied her demeanor on the court and the way she executed her job. He ran the idea of hiring her across the other six officials that were with him. A few months later, she was working her first men’s college game.

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So far, Hogan’s experience has been a successful one. She has the respect and support of her male counterparts and she’s only heard the comment, “This ain’t women’s basketball” one time, which is a great start.

Now fully entrenched as part of the NCAA Men’s Basketball referee circuit, Hogan dreams of one day reffing during March Madness. Her master plan is to keep inspiring the girls of the world not to limit their dreams to just things they can see.

“My No. 1 goal is to bring out these little girls to know whatever they want to do, they can do it,” Hogan said. “I have a daughter and I try to let her see that nothing’s impossible. When I see little girls on the sideline — when I see little boys on the sideline — I make it a point to either talk to them, give them a high-five or let them hold the ball. Hope is a major thing for me. Growing up in Compton, you see things.”

You can always be the first. If a lane is not there, just keep pushing until you invent one for yourself like Crystal Hogan did.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.