Puyallup resident Cal Lovering enjoys a good game of soccer.
As a lifelong soccer fan and referee for 15 years, he’s refereed more than 2,500 games — and around 500 of those games were for the Special Olympics, an organization that provides various sports training and competitions to both kids and adults with intellectual disabilities.
In December, Lovering was sent to Odisha, India, to referee a unified game (where players with and without intellectual disabilities are free to play) for the Asia-Pacific Special Olympics Region. As the state referee coordinator for Special Olympics Washington, he was asked to go by officials and was pleasantly surprised by the request.
2,500 games refereed
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“I was asked if I could go to India and of course I went,” said Lovering, 59. “I was honored to be selected and I was honored to go.”
Teams from India, Korea, Bangladesh and Thailand competed at the event, playing eight games over the course of three days. While Thailand took home most of the wins, Lovering said it was more than just about winning.
“Everything that happened in the clubhouse and on the field was my responsibility,” Lovering said. “It took me about an hour to get (between both of them). People just wanted to take pictures and talk about soccer.”
A passion for not only soccer, but for other players, is a sentiment Lovering sees in most of the Special Olympics games that he referees. Often, players who fall will turn to help each other up — even if they’re on opposing teams.
This means a lot to Lovering, who grew up in New Jersey playing soccer and other sports in junior high and high school.
“We’d play seasonal sports,” Lovering said. “And if the lake froze over, we’d play hockey.”
But soccer stuck with him.
“I just enjoyed (soccer),” he said. “The constant flow of the game. That’s still what I enjoy now.”
After high school, Lovering went to college at Hofstra University in New York and earned his degree in botany. Lovering then joined the military, moving all over the country before settling down in Washington state in 1999 to work at then-Fort Lewis.
It was there that he became involved with Special Olympics in 2003.
“After (refereeing for them) the first time, I was hooked,” Lovering said. “I just had a blast… It’s very rewarding. Just the sheer joy of seeing players score for the first time.”
After (refereeing for them) the first time, I was hooked. I just had a blast… It’s very rewarding. Just the sheer joy of seeing players score for the first time.
Cal Lovering, state referee coordinator for Special Olympics Washington
Lovering was nominated to go to the national Special Olympics games in 2014 and was a head referee for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.
In his garage at home in Puyallup, a banner from the World Games hangs, reminding Lovering of his experience and the people — both players and referees — he’s met along the way.
He remembers one player he nicknamed Pockets, who ran around the field with his hands in his pockets. At first he was shy, said Lovering, but at the end of the season he noticed a big change.
“By the end of the season he blossomed as a player,” Lovering said. “He came out of his shell. He just built this confidence. This is what unified (soccer) is all about — helping (players) understand their skill and help them to be better.”
Lovering retired from the military in 2002, but his involvement with soccer is still going strong. He plans to referee at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
“One of the things we’re looking at very hard is developing athletes as officials,” Lovering said. “I would love to help them become sports officials.”
Referees for all sports are needed for Special Olympics Washington games, Lovering added. For more information, email officials@SPWA.org.
I can go and do a few Special Olympics games and it just reenergizes me for the rest of the year.
Lovering lives at home with his wife, Gail, and two Jack Russell Terriers, Megee and Jax. He has a son, Calvin III, and a daughter, Jennifer. Lovering remembers playing soccer with Jennifer when she was younger. Jennifer was even a referee for younger players.
“Ever since I was a small child I was always playing soccer and I knew my dad grew up playing it. He passed on the love for soccer,” said Jennifer, who now works in advertising in Seattle. “He was always supportive of the sport and me playing as a kid.”
Lovering continues to referee soccer games for schools and clubs all over the Southwest region of Washington, and has refereed at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup and Sunset Stadium in Sumner.
Lovering says his work with Special Olympics teams reminds him how positivity and teamwork can go a long way.
“I can go and do a few Special Olympics games and it just reenergizes me for the rest of the year,” he said.