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Dale Hall: A Rugby Life, from Volunteering to Match Official

By: Karen Gasbarino

As of 2018, Dale Hall is officially a Rugby Canada National Panel Match Official. It has afforded him the opportunity to officiate for Rugby Canada matches, both internationally and domestically, and also for Major League Rugby, with Rugby 7s in there for good measure. He was a familiar face at BC Place this past April for the Vancouver 7s, Canada’s stop on the Sevens Series, as well as the week before in Las Vegas. He travels around North America and the Caribbean representing Canada as an official, and he’s always grateful for the opportunities and is an upbeat, positive person.

Many will know his face from matches going back several years, as he has been a referee since 2014 for Rugby Ontario. In 2013 he officially got his level 2 World Rugby Match Official status and in 2014 he got his level 1 7s coaching certification. Prior to that he was heavily involved for many years with his hometown team in Niagara Falls, Ontario – the Niagara Wasps – directing the U18 boys teams and before that coordinating the teams.

It was at Wasps that the seed was planted for his future as a Match Official. Fellow Wasp and future Rugby Canada standout Ray Barkwill suggested he take a referee course “to help line my pockets while I was in college. It was a great way to help pay my player’s dues and all other expenses that come with being a player.” He did, and he never looked back. And it’s been quite the ride since.

Dale Hall is an affable fellow, and is spoken of very highly in Ontario and beyond. Khalil Ajram, fixture on the rugby scene, and who is also thought highly of, says, “Dale’s commitment to rugby is unmatched by very few, not just in Ontario, but in Canada. Dale has excelled as a referee on the national panel, but it’s all the little things he does off the field that makes him stand out. He’s always willing to give a hand, and now is the Tournament Director of the largest Rugby 7s tournament in Ontario – The Q-META Cup.”

The ‘hows and whys’ of officiating often allude rugby supporters. Yet they are key cogs in the rugby wheel, and often under the gun for their on-field decisions. One marvels at the level of fitness they require in order to be successful. The match official and assistant referees never seem to stop moving in a game, never mind having to be so sharp and ‘on the ball’ mentally throughout the entire 80 minutes. It’s an enviable skill-set to be sure.

Beyond rugby officiating, as Ajram says, Hall also gives of himself in other ways. He is the Vice-President of his Rotary Club, “which I am very proud of” Hall says. Further, this was his first year as chair on the Q-META Cup after being on the organizing committee for five years, and I’m sure there will be many more. Hall definitely gives back to the game he loves, to grow the game for the next generation. As he says of the tournament, which took place this past weekend in Brantford: “It was a long weekend for me, but worth it for the kids!”

I asked Dale Hall a few questions about his life as a rugby referee.

Q: Do you know how many matches you’ve officiated?

A: I couldn’t even give you an accurate estimate here. I know I never said no to an appointment during my first four years of refereeing. As I’ve gotten older and gained more responsibilities in life, I’ve had to decline more games unfortunately – saying no has been no easy task.

Q: Would you rather be an Assistant Ref or the Match Official?

A: I enjoy both roles equally. Being an assistant referee (AR) offers a certain level of difficulty, because we’re forced to concentrate on things we don’t focus on when we’re in the middle. Since there aren’t as many opportunities to AR in Canada, I always jump at the opportunity!

Q: How does the process work for rugby officials?

A: The channel for advancement would look like this: your performances will get you noticed by your provincial society. Once you’ve proven you can consistently perform, the provincial society would then nominate you to referee at a national event, and the cycle continues at the national level toward the international level.

Q: What’s next for you? More MLR matches?

A: I’m looking forward to the off-season! It’s been a physically demanding 10 months. Referees don’t take the same physical abuse as players do, but when you look at the amount of kms we run; the ankles, knees and hips take a beating. I can tell you I may be appointed to AR MLR matches. The referees that are in the middle for those are contracted with the MLR directly.

Q: How was it ‘reffing’ at the Vancouver 7s? Was that your biggest tournament?

A: The Vancouver 7s was quite an experience! I was lucky enough to AR the week before in Vegas as well, so I wasn’t as nervous. There’s something special about BC Place and the crowd at Vancouver 7s.

Q: What is the standout moment on the field for you?

A: There have been a ton of memorable moments on – and off – the pitch. I would say one of the best moments was when my good friend, David Jones, asked me to hold on to the engagement ring he was going to use to propose to his then girlfriend Terri Burns. He faked an injury and I had to wave Terri (who was the Athletic Therapist) onto the field, then handed him the ring. David planned out his proposal a year in advance, and wanted me to be part of it – that meant a lot to me.

Q: What has been the most challenging moment?

A: Every moment I’m on the pitch provides a different challenge. That’s why I love refereeing.

Q: Do you have hopes to officiate in any future World Cups?

A: No. I’ll stick to domestic rugby.

Q: Will you attend RWC 2019 in Japan?

A: No, I’ll enjoy those games from the comfort of my couch and the local pub!

Q: How do you achieve the work/rugby-work/life balance?

A: It’s extremely difficult. My work week alone consumes about 60 hours, plus training, rugby, and preparation/review. I often find there aren’t enough hours in the day, but I always manage to get everything done. I’ve had many nights of very little sleep, but I find coffee and willpower get me through when the mind is starting to slack! I’m also very lucky to have a supportive partner, who has quickly become my number one fan, and is always there to help when I need her.

Q: What would you consider to be the ‘dream’ officiating experience?

A: A game where all 30 players walk off the pitch and know I gave that game my all.

Q: What are your next steps within rugby?

A: I would love to become a WR Educator and be able to administer courses to new referees. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of the game, yet, but I would love to pass on what I know to the next generation and prepare them as best as I can.

We’re sure we will see Hall on the circuit for many years to come, continuing to help grow the game of rugby in Canada and beyond.