The Refereeing and Mentoring Program — or RaMP — is a program designed to help WGR alumni and other interested parties to continue to participate in the rugby community through refereeing.

Coordinated by Coach Wally at Catholic Memorial High School, the program launched earlier this year. This spring, RaMP referees have been participating in local events as assistant referees on the touch line, or shadowing the main referee on the pitch.

Women refereeing women

One of the goals of RaMP is to increase the number of women referees available to referee Wisconsin girls rugby.

The second leg of the WISCO7s series is an example of some early success in this area. As shown below, RaMP participants Aoife Hanley and Kayla McQuestion were serving as assistant referees for Michelle O’Brien and Emily Grambsch.

Aoife Hanley, Michelle O’Brien, Emily Grambsch, Kayla McQuestion
Left to right: Aoife Hanley, Michelle O’Brien, Emily Grambsch, Kayla McQuestion

Learning from the best

The RaMP program is fortunate to have experienced referees like O’Brien and Grambsch to mentor the next generation of Women referees.

For example, referee Grambsch has a long and distinguished rugby career which began as a player in college in 2009 at UW Madison. Emily played throughout college and continued overseas with Freiburg Rugby Club while studying abroad.

After returning to Wisconsin, the Appleton native played for Wisconsin Women’s RFC and the state’s under-23 squad until injuries forced her to retire in 2013. That’s when her coach suggested she stay involved through refereeing.

A shift from 15s to 7s

Initially, Emily refereed a lot of rugby 15s and quickly rose through the refereeing ranks in part by attending popular tournaments such as Nash Bash. Locally, she was the center referee for the 2015 WGR State Championship game between Catholic Memorial HS and Divine Savior Holy Angels.

That same year she was refereeing at the Men’s and Women’s national collegiate playoffs, including in the championship match.

But in 2016 she shifted her focus to rugby 7s and through 2018 had earned three international caps for refereeing the HSBC Rugby 7s series in Atlanta and Las Vegas. She also refereed at the Rugby Americas North qualifiers for the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics.

Not surprisingly, Emily has refereed at many informal 7s events around the country including two of the largest tournaments: the New York 7s and Wisconsin’s own Lakefront 7s.

Back at it, after a break from the game

Nine years of non-stop rugby is a lot for anyone and after her Olympic experience Emily decided to take a break from the game.

After a nearly 4-year absence, she recently returned to Wisconsin. We’re fortunate to have such an experienced local referee to help mentor the next generation including those in the RaMP program like Hanley and McQuestion.

Q & A with referee Emily Grambsch

What are some of your most memorable moments as a referee? “Refereeing at the international level was a big highlight. Experiencing the pace of the international game up-close in Las Vegas left me in awe. Being able to learn from Olympic-level referees during my time in Atlanta was also incredible.”

You’ve recently refereed Wisconsin Girls Rugby after a long break. How has girls rugby in Wisconsin changed since you refereed here back in 2015? “I’m really impressed at how well the current players understand the law. The game is played at a much more technical level these days. Catholic Memorial and DSHA stand out in this area. I’m also impressed with the number of girls participating and how well organized they are. Multiple clubs have multiple divisions now for the 7s season. Hamilton apparently has three teams registered for the final leg of the WISCO 7s! It’s incredible.”

What advice would you give to a new referee or RaMP participant? “First, it is important to learn the laws of rugby deeply. You can’t referee higher-level matches without a complete understanding of the laws. Next, have confidence in yourself. Even as a new referee, you have a place in the game. You belong here.”

Do you have any advice for the players? “I encourage all active rugby players to take an interest in refereeing the sport. It will improve your game, and help keep you active in the rugby community when your playing days are done.”

Interested in refereeing?

If you’re interested to join the RaMP program and become a WGR referee, check out the details here.