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Wrestling referee Marcia Haise's life of reversal

National Wrestling Hall of Fame 2014 inductees Marcia

National Wrestling Hall of Fame 2014 inductees Marcia Haise and Noel Thompson pose for a portrait during the downstate New York chapter's annual awards dinner at the Melville Marriott Hotel on April 25, 2014. Credit: James Escher

Marcia Haise fell in love twice at Syracuse University. The first time her heart fluttered, it was over Terry Haise, an outstanding Syracuse wrestler. He would become the man she'd marry and have what she thought was the perfect family, with three children, living in the small incorporated village of Babylon.

Her second love affair would be with wrestling. She'd never seen a wrestling match until she took favor with Terry and watched him compete at Syracuse.

"I learned so much watching Terry wrestle at Syracuse and then watching him coach in high school," Haise said. "I was absorbing all the time and really loved everything about the sport. The strategy, the strength, the dedication and the life lessons."

So there was Haise, 31 years ago, sitting on the hard wooden bleachers at another long day of wrestling at the Cadet Wrestling Nationals in Freeport.

"They were shorthanded and they asked if I wanted to help," she laughed. "I didn't want to sit around anymore, so I gave it a shot. So they said we call red on the left shoulder and blue on the right shoulder and threw me this huge referee's shirt that came down past my knee. And I worked it."

Thus started a Hall of Fame officiating career.

Pinnacle of the sport

Haise was inducted with five other recipients into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Friday night. Haise was honored by the Friends of Long Island Wrestling-New York downstate chapter of the Hall of Fame for her lifetime service to the sport. She is the first female referee ever inducted into the Hall, in Stillwater, Okla.

"During the initial years that Haise officiated, coaches would ask why I supported my wife in her desire to referee," Terry Haise said. "I simply stated, 'She's been involved with the sport on various levels and has developed an innate ability to anticipate wrestling movements. Her passion for providing professional and fair judging of competitors makes her a valuable asset to our sport.' I'm so proud of her -- it was a challenge, and it was never easy."

This macho sport of warriors wasn't ready to accept a woman, especially in a role of authority. The resistance only fueled Haise to become an outstanding, respected official. So she pushed forward despite the ignorance of some.

"Some guys were very chauvinistic when she started and it was very tough on her," Wantagh High School coach Paul Gillespie said. "She deserves all the credit in the world. Some coaches still don't want a woman in the sport. But she's an excellent official who has improved over the years and earned my respect. This Hall of Fame honor is long overdue."

Gillespie, considered the dean of Nassau wrestling, was inducted into the Hall in 2006. As he showered Haise with praise, Gillespie said her trek encountered resistance and only her resolve and love for wrestling helped her maintain focus to be successful.

Still a pioneer

So how tough was it? Thirty-one years later, Haise is still the only female varsity referee in New York. She cannot be considered a trailblazer because no one has followed. That tells you how lonely the road has been. She has had no one to commiserate with, no one to share issues and search for answers with, except for the men in what is ultimately a man's sport.

"She's the one," said Baldwin High School director of athletics Ed Ramirez, who also serves as the Nassau wrestling chairman. "It's very tough in a sport that is coached by only men to succeed as a woman. She is the authority figure and many coaches have a problem with it. She is not passive, always in control, and knows the rules."

"When she's challenged on rules, she's been able to educate people and impress upon them how much she knows about the sport. Some men have big egos and don't want to take orders from a woman in that setting -- that's the struggle."

Not all coaches have made things difficult for Haise. Some appreciate her skill set.

"Haise is very consistent, you always know what to expect when she gets on the mat," Plainedge coach Rob Shaver said. "It's easy to single her out because she's a woman but she loves the sport and is a big advocate."

East Islip coach Guy Leggio, also a 2014 inductee, called her "a student of the sport."

Referee's referee

Haise has an extensive resume. She's been able to juggle motherhood and worldwide travel. She's officiated 18 World Championships, three World Cups and the United States Olympic trials. Her travels have taken her to Europe, Japan, South America and Russia. She's endured sexism, political bullying and straight up ignorance at some venues. She's never wavered.

"Haise is at the center of our extended wrestling family," Terry said. "I am proud of her courage and fortitude to persevere in a 'man's sport.' "

Her life has been complete. Both of her first loves were long-lasting. Forty-five years of marriage, three healthy children, all out in the working world and doing well. And now she is recognized as a pioneer.

"Family was always first and most important," Haise said. "And I truly believe wrestling helped prepare my kids for life. It instilled confidence and a belief that hard work in anything leads to success. We are a wrestling family."

Wrestling in the bloodline

Jeff Haise won the state high school wrestling title in 1987 and Brian was an All-Suffolk wrestler in 1995. Wendy, who was born in between her brothers, was a four-sport letterman.

Jeff Haise once told his mom: "The bell rings at the start of my day and it rings at the end of my day. And that's when I look to see if I've won or lost."

She is an 18-year veteran high school official in Nassau and 13 years in Suffolk.

"I believe Long Island officials are exceptional," she said. "I am extremely proud that the men I work with treat me as a referee and not as a woman. I can articulate like any other referee, male or female. They know I work hard because any mistake I make is magnified because I'm a woman."

This is not a job for the weak. She's had the whistle kicked from her lips as a wrestler thrashed on the mat desperately trying to avoid a pin. And she was kicked violently during a 195-pound bout at a William Floyd tournament in 2013. The whip kick shattered her tibia in three places.

"I wasn't out of position but I had no place to go," she said.

But she's out there again this year doing what she loves.

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