Interview with Referee Kyle Zeiber

Russ Thompson
Water Polo Planet

Kyle ZeiberTell us a little about what you do vocationally. 

I am the Director of Plant Management for the Wilson School District. Wilson is a large suburban district in SE Pa. I am responsible for the management of all facilities and grounds for the district.

When did you start playing?  At what age?  Tell us about that experience.

I lived in the city ½ block from the local pool and started swimming at a young age. I was a “pool rat” and spent every summer day at East Reading Swimming Association pool from opening until they kicked me out at the end of the day. I began playing at age 12. The older boys at the pool would pull benches over to the edge of the pool to use as goals since we didn’t have goals. When I entered 9th grade I was asked to try out for our high school team. We had a new high school coach and this was the first year we had a water polo team. I made the varsity team. One of the most memorable things about that 9th grade year was being bussed to the high school. Our junior high schools were grades 7-9 and spread throughout the city. Every day they would send a bus to pick me up and take me to the high school for practice. I remember how lonely I felt being the only one on that big bus. The first few trips were intimidating for a scrawny little 9th grader. This was also the first time I began learning the game. My coach Sid Burkot knew and understood the game. He taught me to be a student of the game.

 When did you start refereeing?  Tell us about your experience and your past.

Soon after graduating from college, I began coaching high school. I started the water polo program at Governor Mifflin HS. The early years were tough with low numbers and inexperienced players, but we persevered. A few years later we won the Men’s Pa High School Water Polo Championships. I coached for ten years and after much deliberation I made a very difficult decision and chose to end my coaching career. Chuck Bartlett, who is now the head of the Pa Referee Association, asked me to consider becoming a referee. I had some trepidation since I was always the one giving refs a hard time. I thought I would give it a try and I’ve been doing it since that time.     

 You’re a top referee in Pennsylvania and  a student of “Doc’ Hunkler.  What are your observations about how the game has changed since the 80’s?

I don’t consider myself a top official but thank you for the kind words. I was privileged to play for Doc Hunkler and learned a great deal from him. Not only is he is a great coach and ambassador for this sport but he is also a truly genuine and terrific person. I played when three consecutive fouls in the hole resulted in an ejection. Later came the two point shot. Thankfully both are gone. The game has change in many ways since the 80’s. When I played it seemed that more emphasis was placed on driving and movement. Soon after, the O2M was more of the focal point. Now the game appears to be speeding up with more movement and more ejections being called.    

 Are those changes better for the game?  Worse?  What is your assessment?

I believe that speeding up the game benefits not only the players but also the fans. In the past, games sometimes resembled wrestling matches in the water. It often slowed things down and led to players being more susceptible to injuries. More movement and speed normally leads to increased man ups, fast breaks, and in the end, more goals.    

What can referees do to help create a game that is more fluid?   What behaviors by a referee cause the game to stagnate?

I believe that understanding the advantage rule is the key here. If a referee understands that rule and its proper application, it will go a long way towards good game flow and fluidity. Young referees often struggle with the advantage rule. This along with calling the 2M position are the most difficult aspects for young referees and often causes stagnation during a game.
What is your favorite memory as a player?  A referee?

In high school I remember playing a prep school and getting my nose broken by a deliberate elbow. I begged my coach not to take me out so we stuffed cotton gauze up my nose and I finished the game. We won and their after game cheer was, “That’s alright, that’s okay, you’re gonna work for us some day”. Nice! In college having Doc as a coach provided a plethora of memorable experiences. Doc always had a humorous story, a joke or an anecdote. Some of those puns I used as a coach and continue to occasionally use to this day. We were a club team that played varsity so we didn’t have much funding from the University. On Fridays we would load up a van full of athletes and set off for another tournament. I recall sleeping on mats in the wrestling rooms of field houses for tournaments or sleeping on the floor of opposing coaches’ houses at tournaments because those coaches once played for Doc. I remember taking a running leap off the 10M tower at Army and clearing the bulkhead that separated the polo pool from the diving well. It almost gave Hunk a coronary. My favorite memory of all was playing in the Div. 1 National Championships in Long Beach California. We were a rag tag bunch of kids from Pennsylvania (mostly) who overachieved thanks to superior coaching. The experiences and the people I played with in college will always be in my memories.
What are your goals as a referee?  

My goal is to give back to the sport and to be the best referee I can be. Water Polo has given me so much. I went to Slippery Rock because they offered water polo. There I met my wife Lisa. Without her support I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. We have two sons and have been married for 27 years. I have been lucky enough to meet a great number of people through water polo who have become friends. My life would have turned out much differently if not for water polo. For that I am grateful.