Paul Bretz: On the Right Track
It wasn’t until the third match of his 15s officiating career between the Old Blues and San Mateo that Paul Bretz realized his most successful path in rugby was going to be through refereeing. After the match, Paul was chatting with the scrum half when he asked Paul, “So how many matches have you officiated?” Paul confidently answered, “Three.” As if a visionary of the future, the scrummy replied, “Well, you are already a heck of a better ref than you ever were a player.”
From that point on, it seemed that Paul was destined for greatness as a referee.
Paul began playing rugby in 1987 for the Marine Corp and was quickly selected to the Combined Forces side in 1988. In 1992, shortly after his time with the Marines, Paul moved to England and played for six months on the Leicester Tigers 3rd and 4th sides. At this point in time, Paul was the only American in the Leicester Rugby Club and quickly came under the mentorship of Dean Richards, the coach of Leicester.
While at Leicester, Paul gained knowledge and skills that continue to help him to this day. Upon his return to the states Paul played for Coronado RFC and Old Mission Bay Athletic Club (OMBAC) before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area where he played for the San Jose Seahawks until his playing career ended after a series of injuriesin 1998/1999.
The repeated injuries kept Paul from playing the sport he loved, but the fact was that he could not see himself completely away from rugby. This, coupled with his belief that he could outperform the referees he had experience with, led Paul to seek his certification as a referee.
It took Paul one short year to jump from a C level certified referee to a B level certified referee and this rapid development earned him an invite to an accelerated referee program whose goal was to get an American referee to the National level as fast as possible. He was one of six referees selected to the program that began with an intense four-day preparation camp, followed by a tournament to allow them to practice their learned skills, and ended with a six-week referee program abroad.
The accelerated program proved invaluable for the development of Paul’s career and allowed for him to enter the international rugby stage quickly. He received his first international appointment for a test match in the Cayman Islands in 2006 and has been a pioneer for American referees ever since. A few early appointments stand out in Paul’s mind as honorable and humbling experiences.
He was one of the first referees involved with the Churchill Cup, where he was a touch judge for one year and a referee for two years. In 2008, he traveled to Canterbury and officiated a Level 2 game, which is the level right before professional in New Zealand. At that point in time, Paul was the only American to ever officiate a match at that level anywhere in the world.
In the qualifying matches for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Paul was refereeing a match between Barbados and Trinidad in the Cayman Islands. A physical breakdown just ten minutes into the game sprung a senseless punch to the face that required Paul to give the first red card of the 2011 Rugby World Cup Qualifying rounds.
International matches are the highest level of rugby and typically run a different course than domestic competition, but that doesn’t mean that unprofessional competitions are unworthy. Paul thoroughly enjoys refereeing collegiate level games, most notably matches between Cal and the University of British Columbia, a top Canadian rugby college team as well as the Army and Navy match that went down to the last second this past spring.
Despite his success as a referee, Paul continues to find pleasure through the trust that he continually develops with players and coaches alike.
When asked about his favorite moment as a referee Paul said, “When you walk to the field and the teams know who you are and say “Look who is officiating… We’ve got a good ref today,” that lets me know I am doing my job well and that the teams trust my judgment.”
Through his career as a referee, Paul has witnessed firsthand the progression of rugby in America to where it is today. The creation of the College Premier Division and the progress made in the youth and high school levels has made rugby considerably better in the United States. His belief is that the closer alignment of views amongst referee evaluators, referees, coaches, and players has led to a consistent level of play and officiating.
“We still need more quality referees or the game will not progress,” said Paul on how to keep growing the sport. In order to create more referees Paul had his entire high school team for the Pleasanton Cavaliers become certified referees, he feels that by encouraging clubs to push young ruggers to become referees we will see an increase in referees and forward movement in the level of play here in the States.
Young referees can learn a few things from Paul. The attitude he brings into every match he officiates fosters growth as a referee and as a rugby player: regardless of the level of play, there is always something that a referee can learn and there are always things that need improvement. It takes a ref to play rugby, and the better the referee, the better the game.