When Kaila Olin was introduced as one of the officials in Saturday’s Royal City-Eatonville Class 1A state championship football game at Harry E. Lang Stadium in Lakewood, there was more than a smattering of applause from the crowd.
That was a strong clue — one of many, to be sure — that this wasn’t just a routine game in Olin’s eight-year officiating career. Actually, more like 11 years if you count the little-league and middle-school games she did beginning at age 15 before becoming certified to do high-school games by the Washington Officials Association (WOA) in 2013 at age 18.
“Applause doesn’t happen for officials often,” said Olin, who grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in communications. “And I think that kind of made it real on what was happening, in that I was making history.”
Olin was about to become the first woman to officiate a state-championship game in Washington, serving as head linesman in a 41-0 Royal rout in pouring rain. The game was a mismatch, but Olin did what she was trained to do — officiate with the same focus and care as if it were going down to the wire.
Her seamless performance earned her hugs and congratulations from fellow officials in her crew, other referees who were about to work upcoming games and retired officials who came out to watch Olin’s achievement. Even Eatonville coach Gavin Kralik, whose side of the field Olin worked, came away impressed amid his team’s defeat.
“She did an outstanding job,” Kralik said Tuesday. “Super-exciting for the game of football and officiating, and I’m super-proud of her. She was a class act. It was very clear that she really understood the game and her role. And you could tell she understood her jurisdiction in terms of officiating.”
Todd Stordahl, executive director of the WOA, watched the first half and offered his congratulations to Olin before having to leave. He said a few more women across the state join the WOA each year and added that hopefully in a few years, what Olin did won’t even be a story. But he was thrilled to see it take place.
“Any time we see someone break some type of barrier for us, it’s always great, because now it’s just going to open the doors for more,” he said.
At age 26, Olin was also one of the youngest officials to land in a state-title game. And at not quite 5 feet 3, it’s a good bet she might have been the smallest. I am absolutely certain no official has had a prouder father than Don Olin, himself a longtime high-school football official who took it all in from the stands. When he saw the fans around him start to clap for Kaila, one of two daughters whom he raised as a single father after their mother died in 2006, that’s when the magnitude of the moment hit him, too.
“I’ve never seen that before in my entire life,” said Don, who has been a member of the WOA since 1985. “That’s what kind of choked me up a little bit.”
During the course of the afternoon, Kaila allowed herself a moment to soak in her milestone, and especially the role it might have in encouraging more girls and young women to take up officiating — or any other endeavor in which they might appear blocked by their gender or feel intimidated to join.
“I have been in that position,” she said, “because when you introduce yourself to coaches at games, I’ve had coaches look up and down at me. I’ve had coaches try and give me a pop quiz on the sidelines about a rule. I’ve had parents and some players kind of question me, or I’ve heard people in the stands say that I don’t belong.
“And even now, after all of this, I’ve seen people comment that, ‘Oh, so there’s just not enough men anymore?’ And that’s why I know that what I did is going to be impactful.”
What those skeptics (happily, an ever-shrinking minority) don’t realize is how hard Olin has worked to achieve the honor of a state-title game.
She had to go through a rigorous vetting process to be deemed postseason eligible, and then nominated by her association (the North Olympic Football Association) for a state slot.
“Like, I’m not a token piece, or someone they’re trying to get attention to,” she said. “They put me here because they trust me to represent our association. And because I’ve worked hard to get here.”
It was a driver’s education class at age 15, of all things, that really drove Olin to officiating. She would chauffeur her father to his officiating meetings in Port Angeles to get her necessary driving hours. Rather than sit in the car, she ventured into the meetings — and a wondrous and vibrant world opened up to her.
Kaila was fascinated by the situational film clips they showed. She was enthralled by the rule books, case books and mechanics books the officials pored over.
“I listened to the presentation and how they went about it, and how much went into football, just the X’s and O’s of everything,” she said. “It was so interesting. And I went home, and I read that rule book, and I read that case book, cover to cover.”
Olin had been a dancer, a cheerleader at Port Townsend as well as a member of the basketball and softball teams. Now, at age 15, she was an official, working every youth game she could, counting down the months until she could become high-school certified — and work games with her dad. They have an extremely close relationship, especially after her mom died when Kaila was 11. They have also worked together for years on demolition derbies, another area where Kaila has smashed the glass ceiling (and more than a few fenders) as a multi-time champion of the Forks derby.
The father-daughter officiating moment Kaila savors the most is a seemingly mundane one that resonates with emotional significance — the first time she and her dad got to call a successful field-goal attempt simultaneously.
“That was one of the coolest memories ever, seeing it go through, looking at each other and then giving the ‘field-goal good’ signal, and then running up the sideline together afterwards,” she said. “That’s so fun.”
Olin, who does play-by-play on Friday Harbor High School basketball games in the winter and contributes to the Sports Illustrated Husky Maven channel, has aspirations for a broadcasting career. She has also begun to look at college officiating as a realistic goal. Her dad taught her to go after her dreams and ignore the skeptics, which is what led her onto the field Saturday and will take her to even greater heights.
“That kid, as small as she is, has done things a lot of people wouldn’t do,” said Don Olin. “Or couldn’t do. The worst thing you can tell her is, ‘You cannot do this.’ “