Tracy Chang

Life Story and Experiences

Do you remember your first memory or experience in basketball and when you fell in love with the sport?

That goes way back to when I was able to walk, I’ve been playing basketball all my life. Growing up with an older brother and mainly male cousins made me competitive and want to be “just like the boys.”  I was so grateful for my grandpa dedicating half of his garden in the backyard to build a basketball court for his grandkids. We took full advantage of it, playing 3x3, 2x2 or with whoever we could get together on this single hoop. My fondest memory would be in that backyard playing basketball nonstop, even after sundown with just a garage door light barely illuminating our court.

Tell us about your basketball journey leading up to this moment.

As a player at Burnaby South Secondary School, I was inspired by my coach Merv Magus, who single-handedly ran the girls’ basketball program, coaching everything from grade 8 to grade 12 girls. I joined him in coaching the younger grades while playing on the senior team and continued to coach with Merv for a few years after graduating.

Somewhere in between that, Joe Wong, the rookie educator for the Greater Vancouver Basketball Officials Association (GVBOA) at the time, was recruiting new officials and he approached me to ask if I was ever interested in officiating. I attended the rookie training sessions with the GVBOA and began reffing some of the club U14 and U15 games while still playing. After graduating high school, I wasn’t sure if it was something that I wanted to pursue so I stopped officiating completely until Joe gave me another call and insisted that I continue. I owe a lot to him because after joining mid-season, everything just took off from there.

I was given all the opportunities in the world from the very beginning. People were coming up to me and saying, “Tracy you’ve got great potential and we want to put all the work into developing you.” I had many veteran officials who took me under their wing, and it was just a rollercoaster from the get-go. I was going to officiating camps left, right, center, and refereeing everything from high school to summer leagues and summer camps. Up until the pandemic, I had refereed basketball year-round since 2008.

What inspired you to pursue officiating?

I decided to pursue officiating because I wanted to give back to the basketball community as much as it has provided me. Prior to playing in high school, I played at the Burnaby Eagles Club at Bonsor Community Centre and my coach was Norm Roberts. Seeing how much Norm, Merv, and all the other individuals have given to the community made me want to do the same. As soon as I realized I was one of the only female officials out there, and that my presence meant something to young female athletes, I wanted to do more to make a difference. By pursuing this path, I was hoping that I could inspire these athletes to do something they never thought was possible.

What professional development opportunities did you take to become and grow as an official?

Camps and clinics are essential in a referee’s development. The former BCBOA (now merged under Basketball BC) and the GVBOA provide various resources (seminars, clinics, etc. ) to continuously help our officials improve. During this whole pandemic, the CBOC (Canadian Basketball Officials Commission) has also provided webinars for officials nation-wide. With all these resources available, it is still up to us to take that initiative and constantly seek out ways to improve ourselves.

Having a close-knit support system with my fellow officials is another method as well. I’ve often met up with them to break down game tapes. We want to see how we did, how clear our signaling is, and spot why we missed a foul (like moving too early from our spot). Similar to how athletes look at their shooting form, we look at our positions on the court.

Most people might not know this but behind the scenes, referees work hard on perfecting our game. There is no “perfect” game, but we do our best to get there. This includes pre- and post-game discussions (sometimes lasting upwards of 2 hours), game reports and editing game clips of specific plays to send one another. We would call our mentors, who might be in another province, and get their input on a game we had just done.



Who has had the greatest impact on you growing up and throughout your career?

My dad was my first coach. He taught my brother and I how to handle the ball properly. Growing up in a culture where girls aren’t usually given the same opportunities, my dad ignored that and taught me whatever he taught my brother. He gave me all the tools I needed to pursue my passion in sports.

Then the coaches I mentioned of course, Merv Magus and Norm Roberts. As well as Joe Wong who kickstarted my officiating career. I owe a lot to the many mentors who have supported me early on in my career. The late Felix Gonzalez was a huge part of that journey. Although he started a few years ahead of me, we grew and improved together as officials. There was a core group of people who had helped me tremendously as an individual and as an official. Dindo Cobarrubias, Jason Cook, Sean March, Todd Prodanuk, Karn Dhillon, and Bill Denney to name a few.

Another big mentor of mine is Karen Lasuik, who is based in Edmonton and a recently retired FIBA referee. She’s one of the top officials in NCAA basketball and at the international level. Karen has always motivated me to go the distance. She’s broken so many barriers for female officials in Canada and seeing her achievements make me want to do the same for my province.

What motivates you and what are you passionate about?

I’ve always wanted to make a difference in this world, or maybe just in someone’s life, and I had no idea that officiating basketball would eventually lead to that. At least not until I had young players coming up to me and asking, “I can do that too?” Seeing the transition within the last few years of young female officials now asking me, “what was your experience like? How would you do this?” has been amazing. It gives me a great sense of pride to see so many strong, confident, and passionate female officials coming up in this province. That itself has given me a lot of motivation to keep working hard.

I want to show people that it’s not just all male referees out there but that female referees have to work that much harder to prove themselves. We have to endure a lot more in order to be seen as an equal, especially at the higher levels. I consider myself very lucky to have come into the sport at the time that I did because of other female referees that have paved the way for me. The barriers have been broken by people such as Devona Adams and Shelley Ganchar, and I want to make them proud.

What goals do you hope to accomplish in your career and your personal life?

When I first started, I had the ambition of becoming a FIBA official and making it to the “big leagues,” but since then my personal career has been more of a priority so I’ve taken a step back from that. My goal now is to be the best high school, Pacwest, and USport official I can for this country and for my province. Eventually I do want to take on the educator role for our province and become an evaluator. We don’t have many female evaluators for basketball officials in BC right now, and I hope I can do that down the line to help others improve their game.

What do you like most about your job?

Seeing all the people who love to do this and play the sport. No official is doing this for the money; we really are here because we love the sport. It’s our passion. I have met so many amazing people across Canada and I never would have crossed paths with them if it wasn’t for basketball. The camaraderie we officials have together is just like being a part of a team sport. We support each other, we learn from each other, and we always have fun together. I have so many great memories from the various tournaments and camps I’ve attended throughout my career.

I also love that I can prove something just by being here. Not just by representing women, but also the Asian female community in sports. I have only met a few Asian female officials in my career, even with such a huge Asian-Canadian community in Vancouver; so I hope my presence on the court might inspire some young ladies from that community to give it a try.

What has been the toughest moment in your officiating career that you’ve had to deal with? If you could go back to that moment, what would you tell yourself?

I was dealing with a very difficult coach at the USport level. I don’t think he was picking on me because I was a female official, but I think he was picking on whoever was the “weaker-looking” official. The way he addressed me in that particular moment affected my confidence because I didn’t know how to respond to him. He made me feel undermined and criticized. If I could go back to that moment, I would tell myself that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself because everything is a form of development and just because I didn’t handle it the way I wanted to, it doesn’t mean that my reaction was wrong. It just means that I didn’t have the tools to manage it at that point in time.

I had one great piece of advice from an official early on in my career and he said, “right now you’re climbing the ladder like a steep incline and you’re going to keep succeeding. While I’m super proud of you, eventually you’re going to stumble and fall, and it’s how you pick yourself back up that’s going to define you.” That advice has had a tremendous influence on my development.

Is there anything that you do to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health?

I love playing team sports, that’s how I stay active. I can’t run on a treadmill but if you give me a ball to chase, I can run forever. I joined a women’s flag football league 3 years ago and it’s been a huge part of my life since. The group of ladies I play often include previous basketball players that I have officiated before. It just shows how deep the connections from one sport can run.

What has been your proudest moment or greatest achievement in your officiating career?

My first ever national tournament was the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Quebec. I had the opportunity to officiate the gold medal game on the U17 Women’s side and representing BC was one of my first great achievements.

Another one was the CABO Camp, hosted by the Canadian Association of Basketball Officials (now known as CBOC) in Halifax. This was a camp dedicated to the up-and-coming young officials in Canada that the CBOC wanted to groom for the national stage. There were 11 of us in total that went to Halifax in the middle of the summer, and it was the hottest condition that I’ve ever refereed in, but it was so much fun. We were on the East Coast and the humidity was so high that we had to stop the game every 5 minutes to wipe the floor from the condensation build up. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.

What do you think can be done to support women in officiating at all levels?

Exposure and representation are huge. I’ve thought about why it was so hard for me to gain confidence in the beginning, even though I had the greatest support system coming up, and I realized that it was because the advice and experiences that were shared with me all came from a male perspective. Whatever my male colleagues tried to suggest wouldn’t always work the same way because people were going to look at me differently. Especially in the beginning when no one knew that I was a referee and I looked very young.

On top of that, I had to prove myself by being out on the court with a male colleague that was less experienced than me because the coach would only address him instead of me. The lack of representation created those types of barriers for me.   

I owe a lot to the trailblazers before me, such as Devona Adams and Arlene Olynyk, both of whom retired around the time I was starting out. They have opened the doors for me so many years before and I want to do the same for those after me.

Posted July 31, 2021