From parent volunteer to world-class official

Mar. 19, 2014

From parent volunteer to world-class official
By Michael Peeling, Paris Star

Twenty five years ago, Dave Shewfelt faced a question at one of his son's swim meets: Do I just sit and watch or volunteer to help?

"I'm not one to sit by and do nothing," Shewfelt said in his Paris workshop at the back of the home he shares with his wife, Susan. "So I said 'What can I do to help?'"

The Brantford Aquatic Club put Shewfelt - who was on the varsity swim team and water polo team at McMaster University - to work, but he required training and experience. He took courses to learn about timing, judging electronics, including video, judging turns and he even served as president of the club.

After 10 years, Shewfelt earned the credentials to be a master-level official in Canada, "a process of moving up the ladder" through five levels, which meant he could officiate at national swim meets all over the country.

"As a master official, you're responsible for everything," he said. "If there is a question of fairness, the coaches come to you."

Over the past 25 years, Shewfelt never got paid for officiating at the swim competitions. It's a strictly volunteer position, but he never regretted putting in the time.

"I had my successes and failures, and I enjoyed it because my kids were there," he said. "So I kept doing it."

While many parents volunteer to help out at their kids' swim meets, Shewfelt said it's rare for them to stick with it.

"Very few of them go beyond that," he said. "When their kids quit swimming, they quit."

Shewfelt said he could have opted to be a starting judge, but he decided to take on being a referee at the national level.

"I picked referee because I like the challenge and authority of it," he said.

Over the course of a three-day swim competition, Shewfelt could put in an average of 40 hours as a master official working the deck.

Shewfelt and his fellow local officials would take the initiative to travel to places like Toronto, Nashville and Montreal to volunteer at bigger meets.

Twenty years after starting, Shewfelt earned his stripes to officiate at world class swimming meets and is one of only six FINA-level officials in Canada.

FINA is the Federation Internationale de Natation (or International Swimming Federation), the governing body that oversees international swimming competition all over the world and assigns officials to the events. Shewfelt has been tapped to officiate in Dubai and Spain to date.

After becoming a master official, one of the first thrills for Shewfelt was in 2004 when he was a turn judge in Toronto for a series of Olympic trials.

"It was really cool," he said. "I was on TV and I got to see some of the best swimmers in the country compete."

When Olympic trials rolled around again in 2008, Shewfelt took his officiating volunteerism to another level when he was a referee "for the highest meet in the country."

"I was quite privileged to be capable of refereeing at the Olympic trials," he said.

It was that same year when Shewfelt's name was submitted to FINA as a candidate to officiate internationally. And in 2009, he was approved to be put on the list.

As a FINA-approved official, Shewfelt was sent to Dubai in 2010 to work at the World Short Course Swimming Championships.

And just last summer Shewfelt worked his highest profile event yet - the FINA World Swimming Championships, which features all five of the major water sports, in Barcelona, Spain.

"That's the big show next to the Olympics," he said. "It was great. It was the highlight of my swimming career to date."

Shewfelt was the only Canadian among the 30 officials working the event.

The only major international swimming competition Shewfelt has yet to officiate at is the Summer Olympics and his last chance is 2016.

"The only one left for me is the Olympics," he said. "I may or may not be appointed."

He is in the midst of his second four-year term as a FINA official and won't be allowed to do a third term. FINA has its officials retire at age 65.

However, Shewfelt can only work as a judge for FINA, not a referee, because he isn't a member of the organization's technical swimming committee.

Shewfelt has been very busy officiating lately, but typically he only volunteers at it once every month. In April he will be off to Victoria, British Columbia for the seventh time to volunteer at the Canadian Spring Nationals.

He has also been assigned to be the superintendent of the deck at the Scarborough pool currently under construction for the Pan American Games in 2015.

"I do it because I love it," Shewfelt said. "There are friends I've made and places I never would have gone if I hadn't. It has been glorious to have these opportunities as an official. The rewards are too many too mention."