Sports have always played an important part of Kristy Langton Schlimgen’s life. From the time she was a little girl until now, she has played everything from softball to volleyball to basketball. She was a key part of the girls’ basketball team and the volleyball team while in high school at Stevensville. After graduation in 1990, she went on to play basketball for the University of Montana Lady Griz and earned numerous honors.
Schlimgen says it was coach Robin Selvig who really helped to shape her life and bring her out of her shell. She played with Shannon Cate Schweyen and Trish Duce Olsen who are both assistant coaches to Selvig. So, on Tuesday night, when she stepped onto the court at the Adams Center wearing the black and white strips of a referee, she had a lot of mixed emotions.
“It was very familiar to hear him (Selvig) chipping at his players,” she said. “They are all my friends but I had a job to do.”
Schlimgen is now a Big Sky referee. After nine years of wearing the insignia of MOA (Montana Officials’ Association) on her shirt, she is now refereeing women’s basketball in the Big Sky Conference.
Each step of her sporting career has brought her to this point. As a player, she learned the game from the inside. She also learned from the best as well as learned about a world beyond the Bitterroot. After playing, she went on to coach at the high school level.
“That gave me an appreciation for coaching and how they are the ultimate motivators,” she said.
She coached until just after the birth of her second son. Schlimgen said coaching took too much away from her family and decided to quit. But she missed the competition and the gym. Someone suggested she become a referee. Her initial thought was “but I hate referees” she said with a laugh. But with the support of her husband, Brent, she took on the task of refereeing volleyball and soon after that basketball.
Schlimgen said, “When I decided to pursue this, it was a sacrifice. But he was okay with that. And he loved being with the boys.”
After officiating basketball games from church leagues to junior high, she started doing high school games. She worked games from Class C schools to the AA schools. Two years ago she started working the Frontier Conference games and also Division II for schools such as MSU Billings and other schools in the Greater Northwest Athletic Conference.
Five years ago, she decided to try to become a Big Sky ref. This involved going to camps where she would be required to ref three and four games a day for five days with every move being scrutinized.
“It’s very intense there. They throw everything they can at you,” she said.
The clinics are held in conjunction with team camps or AAU tournaments so the players are some of the best around. When not working a game, the camp attendees are pouring over film, and breaking apart every play from a referee’s point of view.
“This is a business,” said Schlimgen. “It’s a higher level of training, looking for the little things. It’s a game of angles and you have to learn all of that to make it to this level.”
She went to the camp for three years and felt she was getting to the level she needed to be at. But then her sister got ill and she opted to stay home to care for her.
On April 20, 2011, her husband, Brent, unexpectedly died. Her partner, friend and biggest supporter was gone. She said the grief she felt was so huge she didn’t know how she would get through it. “But it’s like a snow bank, you just have to plow through it.”
The physical nature of refereeing helped with the grief, as did the camaraderie of her fellow refs. A year ago, her parents, Brian and Karen Langton, moved in with her to help care for her sons, Drew and Luke.
“I couldn’t leave them at home with a sitter to go and ref but with mom and dad there, that’s allowed me to get back to refing.”
This last summer, she decided to try again and went back to camp to become a Big Sky ref. There is one person, Marla Denim, that makes all of the assignments for the Big Sky women’s’ games. Imagine Schlimgen’s surprise when a waiter handed her a hand written note during the keynote speaker’s speech on Saturday night of camp. The note told her she had been selected ‘if she went up and interrupted the speaker, took the mic and announced she had been selected.’ At first, she thought it was a joke, but then she thought, what if it isn’t?
The painfully shy teenager couldn’t have done it and probably neither could the Lady Griz player. But those experiences, along with everything else, propelled her to the podium where she announced to the 125 other potential refs that she had been selected.
Now it’s a challenge for her again. She studies casebooks and rulebooks all the time, trying to prepare for an infinite number of situations. Although she is a teacher at Corvallis Middle School, she won’t miss any school this year. All of the games she’s been assigned to are on Saturday nights. She can fly out on Friday after school and be back Sunday. Grandma and Grandpa will keep track of her boys while she’s on the road.
The only close Big Sky game she had this year was last Tuesday at the University of Montana. Her parents, sons, and sister were there watching, just as they (well everyone but the boys) had when she played. It was a proud moment for them but also bittersweet for Schlimgen. “This is where Brent and I spent our senior year as husband and wife. He would have been so proud. He was so supportive.”