Father and Son make the Call On and Off the Court
by Nikki Bernstein for USA Volleyball
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 27, 2013) - One of two father and son duos who are officiating in the USA Volleyball Championships, Bill Thornburgh and his father Ed, have been working together on the courts for 20 years.
Starting first as a line judge in the seventh grade, Bill traveled with the girls’ team as he remembers not having anything else to do in the fall season.
“My father has been an official for as long as I can remember, so when my mom would take my sister to ballet, I would always be with my dad watching him officiate volleyball and basketball,” Thornburgh said.
At age 18, Thornburgh became eligible to become certified to officiate high school volleyball.
“My dad called me up and said, ‘mark your calendar to take your test,’ so I did,” Thornburgh said.
As the next season came, Thornburgh was reminded by his father yet again to mark his calendar to become certified as a USA referee. Shortly afterwards, his father began taking him to collegiate matches.
“Both my father and I are national referees, and for college we are both Professional Association of Volleyball Officials (PAVO), which is the highest level you can achieve,” Thornburgh said.
The father and son duo are required to take tests, travel and attend clinics yearly. Attending events such as these, help to improve their strength ratings and become rated by the event evaluators.
“It’s great working with my father, we have a great relationship and I consider him to be my best friend,” Thornburgh said. “We room together on the road and we’ve pretty much worked every level together as partners, so it’s great spending a lot of time together.”
Married with three kids has been difficult over the years trying to continue with the hectic schedule of a referee, but Thornburgh admits that cutting back on his traveling has kept his wife happy and given him the opportunity to see his children more often, where they live in Indianapolis.
“It’s nice to be able to travel to different cities and see new places,” Thornburgh said. “Over the years I’ve met a lot of nice people and volleyball is a great community to be involved in. For me, its as much about seeing my friends as it is officiating volleyball.”
It’s common to find that most of the officials in this sport have jobs outside of volleyball, but there are some who are lucky enough to work within their region on a full-time basis. Though Thornburgh works full time in education, he enjoys officiating volleyball when he can.
The USA Volleyball Open National Championships are one of Thornburgh’s favorite events to attend, as he loves being able to watch the 76 year olds and up compete, as well as watch the highest level of PVL and open divisions play.
“You get to experience a wide range of talent and ability, while meeting people from all over the United States,” Thornburgh said. “So we’re all happy to be here.”
The level of sportsmanship displayed by the PVL surprises some, as the junior divisions will come with more comments and arguments by coaches and others. The adults in this tournament have proven to be more accepting of the officials’ calls and it is found to be a more low key and relaxed tournament overall.
“The players here want to have fun and don’t get wrapped up in what we do,” Thornburgh said. “We allow them to play and I think it’s a nice relationship. The other officials and myself come here because of that.”
The opportunity to have your father as a mentor and be present at every match is a rarity in life, and for Bill and Ed Thornburgh, their relationship on the courts and in their lives is a special and unique bond they share.