Saskatoon

Saskatchewan referee in Rio officiating sitting volleyball at Paralympic Games

Behind all the athletes, the celebrations and the heartbreaks, Regina’s Louise Ashcroft is in Rio as an official at the Paralympic Games in Rio.

Louise Ashcroft became involved in officiating in 2005

Team Canada's women's sitting volleyball team celebrates its bronze-medal victory over Team Cuba at the 2015 Parapan Am Games. (Lucas Oleniuk/Getty Images)

Behind all the athletes, the celebrations and the heartbreaks, Regina's Louise Ashcroft is in Rio as an official at the Paralympic Games.

After taking in the beautiful and colourful opening ceremonies, Ashcroft has been busy on the courts officiating women's sitting volleyball. She told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend when Canada faced the host nation Brazil on Friday, she was blown away by the support the Brazilians showed, comparing their participation to a flash mob that never stopped.

But she's not there just to make sure players make the right hits and keep the volleyball in play. A big part of Ashcroft's officiating comes into play when evaluating the individual players on the teams and making sure teams follow rules around who can play and when.

"In sitting volleyball we do what we call bench-testing. We look at measuring range of motion in a joint and assess strength and how much weakness there is," Ashcroft explained. "From those measurements we determine whether they're eligible, first of all, and then also what class they fit into."

She added officials put players in two classes; a minimal disabled class and a disabled class, and the rules of the sport determine how many players of a certain class a team can have on the court. In the Paralympic Games' case, the rules dictate teams must have one minimal stable class player on the court at all times and have two minimal disabled players on the team.

Ashcroft said the way the rules are set up is an attempt to ensure the outcome of a game is based on the player's skills and training and less about the individual player's impairment.

But in the end she's still a referee.

"Sometimes we make decisions that don't always make us liked, but it's part of being an official," she said.

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Ashcroft said she got involved more than a decade ago in Regina helping organize the World Standing Disabled Volleyball Championships in 2005. She organized the medical coverage for the tournament and that's where she learned she could be trained as a classification official.

"So I went to that and I thought it was a really great fit for me, I got to use my physiotherapy skills in assessing mobility and strength. Then I carried on to become an international classifier and I get to watch a lot of great volleyball so that's how it happened," she said.

Canada's Sitting Volleyball team faced off against The Netherlands on Sunday. At the time of publishing, the teams were tied at two sets apiece, heading into the fifth and final. Canada's next game goes Sept. 13 when they face Ukraine.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend

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