From UCSB to Special Olympics

By Naomi Cahill

UC Santa Barbara alumna Jordan Franey brought her A-game to the basketball court for this year’s Summer Games – not as an athlete, but as a referee.

The former Division I women’s basketball player was running up and down the court, blowing her whistle and guiding the players to ensure a fair and safe game, like any referee. In addition, her background as a coach was on display in-between timeouts, through her high-fives and helping the athletes practice their shooting.

Jordan, 29, put so much energy into her job as a referee and looked like she was having a blast. However, being a referee also requires a safety aspect.


Jordan Franey, a volunteer referee at Summer Games, played basketball UC Santa Barbara from 2006-10. | Courtesy of UC Santa Barbara Athletics

“You have to always be aware, have eyes in the back of your head and just always know what’s going on because you want them all to be safe,” she said. “You have to be in good shape and these [athletes], they can run, and they’re keeping me on my toes.”

Jordan, who played at UCSB from 2006-10, has noticed similarities in college and professional athletics and Special Olympics. For instance, the athletes are expected to progress through their practices and meet “a set of standards.” There is no going backward.

“You set those standards based on a personnel and I think you never lower those standards,” Jordan said. “They might be something a little different at each level, but the coaches I’ve seen at our event here, they are holding their [athletes] to a standard and they expect them to rise to it and I think that’s the best thing to do. Not coddle them, but encourage them to work harder, to rise to those goals. I think it’s great.”

As a referee for Special Olympics, Jordan is able to see the comradery between the players. Everyone tries their hardest to do their best and yet they support their teammates, regardless of who is scoring the basket.

To Jordan, this is something that athletes at the collegiate and professional levels can learn from Special Olympics athletes.

“These [athletes] are out here with not as much God-given talent as some other people, but they work harder than anyone I’ve seen,” she said. “They care, they’re team players, they’re unselfish, and I think that’s the biggest part of why I love to watch it and ref. It’s so unselfish.

“[Whereas] athletes, when it’s not about them, they don’t care. Here, everyone cares, everyone on the team cares if someone makes a shot. That’s kind of why I’m here because everyone cares so much and it’s such a team sport. I think, sometimes, we lose sight of that.”

Jordan, who has been involved with Special Olympics for two years, has reffed more than 20 tournaments and events. Her experience as a referee has allowed her to fuel her passion for basketball and continues to remind her why sports are great for all, no matter the age or ability.

The support the athletes give each other is also something that Jordan hopes can encourage parents who are new or curious about putting their child into a sport at Special Olympics.

“I haven’t been around an event that hasn’t been supportive or hasn’t been high-fives all around,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things for parents to know is you’re gonna come into an environment where there’s so much positivity. It’s not that its fake or that were pretending – it’s true. Just even small accomplishments by people are so big to them. They’re gonna walk away with a smile on their face and it’s because of the work that the parents do, the coaches do. So it’s overall just a great experience for everyone involved.”

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