Three top USA Rugby National Panel Referees have announced their retirement for the upcoming season after years of service. Kurt Weaver, Nick Ricono and Ed “Zinzan” Gardner will all be stepping down from the panel for the 2018-19 season, with replacements expected to be named in the coming few weeks.
The National Panel is made up of 15 members, identified as the best referees in the country. They advance from their respective local and regional panels before finally ascending to the national level. Their positions are up for review annually with a focus on performance and ability.
Kurt Weaver has been on the national panel for seven years having started in 2012, recently performing internationally as USA’s test match level referee. Weaver, USA Rugby’s former director of youth rugby and current Vice-President of Rugby Operations, took the whistle on 15 test matches before stepping back to focus more on rugby administration. He will look to serve the refereeing community as an educator and supporter of those referees coming through the system.
“This amazing role of referee allowed me to stay involved on the field and travel the world. The countless number of people who supported and helped me along the way are the reason for any level of success I achieved. The honor and privilege of wearing the USA Rugby National Panel crest is so special, and there is nothing better than facilitating a game for players while absorbing their raw passion for this sport. Stepping away from anything is difficult, but seeing the next group of much more talented referees coming through makes that an easy decision.” stated Weaver.
Gardner, who has been refereeing since 1996 when an injury ended his playing career, had been a member of not only the USA Rugby National Panel but on several international panels as well. In total he blew the whistle in over 20 countries, including four international XVs matches. Now that he has hung up the whistle, Gardner is looking to connect with younger generations and help grow the game domestically.
“[I’ll] provide coaching to aspiring refs, and continue to ref on the local level. I enjoy reffing high school matches and believe the future success of USA Rugby is dependent on the young players we have at this level.” Gardner stated, “It has been a great run on the panel all these years, so many excellent rugby people are part of my life, thanks to all of them. Biggest thanks goes to my wife, Cheri, who has been the best Rugby Widow there has ever been.”
For Ricono, who has been behind the whistle for 14 years, his decision to start refereeing was to give back to the game and make it enjoyable for those that he shared the pitch with. It didn’t take Ricono long before he caught people’s eyes. After only five years of refereeing he was appointed to the panel. Now that he is ending his tenure with the national panel he will be training upcoming referees.
“The experience has been life-changing. It has not only improved my knowledge of how the game works, it has also made me a better person,” elucidated Ricono. “Refereeing requires many skills: confidence, decision making, empathy, communication, fitness, preparation, presentation, just to name a few. Those are not only rugby skills but life skills. Practicing those skills under pressure in a fast-moving game is just about the hardest and greatest thing I have ever done.”
The impact of these referees has been felt across the rugby community, and they retire with the deep thanks for their time and service.