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Wellington County lacrosse player and referee Frances McKnight receives award for dedication to sport

'I love everything about lacrosse, it’s my favourite sport by far, and I just love being back in it even if you’re not playing'

From playing to refereeing, Wellington County's Frances McKnight loves lacrosse and wants to help other young athletes grow within the sport.

“I love watching the kids flourish through the sport, especially a sport that I love also," said McKnight, who has been playing lacrosse since she was 10-years-old.

During lacrosse season this year, McKnight refereed three nights a week and participated in local or out-of-town tournaments. She has often been called to help referee 10 to 11-year-olds, but has refereed games with players between the ages of five and 22 in the past.

“I love everything about lacrosse, it’s my favourite sport by far, and I just love being back in it even if you’re not playing, or can be at the centre of it,” said McKnight, who is one of five lacrosse referees in Wellington County currently due to the pandemic.

McKnight said she decided to become a referee five years ago after receiving an email from the association about the opportunity to get certified.

“I wanted to stay involved no matter what I did,” she said. “There wasn’t really one thing that made me want to do refereeing, I just received an email one day and I just went with it."

After attending a one-day session and spending time with a senior official, McKnight began refereeing games on her own. She mentions 2019 was a year of major development for her as a referee, participating in five lacrosse tournaments as well as provincials.

“I had lots and lots of support and mentors that year that helped me get into tournaments and keep going,” said McKnight.

She recalls refereeing with another female referee of similar skill, resulting in both of them improving over the tournament.

“I think we both really grew over the tournament, and we got to do the finals together, and it was a really fitting end to an awesome tournament," said McKnight.

When it comes to making tough calls, McKnight said having previous experience as a lacrosse player helps. Starting with box lacrosse at 10, McKnight said she played within the Centre Wellington Minor Lacrosse Association (CWMLA) and also played field lacrosse for four years in Orangeville. 

“It was something I thought I could succeed in,” said McKnight, who mentions she also was playing hockey and learned some girls on her team also played lacrosse, along with her younger brother.

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, McKnight also played for team Ontario in an annual national lacrosse tournament called the Canadian Female Box Lacrosse National Championships, where she was chosen as assistant captain at 16-years-old.

"The experience was lots of fun and really unique. It’s not often you’re able to spend nearly a week playing your favourite sport at such a high level with people your age from all over Ontario," said McKnight. "It’s also super cool to meet and play with all the different players you’ve played against in the regular season.  There’s lots of the girls that I’m still friends with today."

Recently, McKnight was recognized for her work within the CWMLA as a referee. She received the Archie McDonald award on Oct. 23 for her dedication, outreach and passion within the sport. The award was presented by Zone 8 Lacrosse and is the first award McKnight has received from the league. 

McKnight said she didn't even know she had been chosen as the 2021 recipient until she was given the award at that night's meeting.

“I was super excited, I put a lot of work into this season and I felt good that it was recognized,” said McKnight.

As a referee, McKnight mentions one of the most rewarding aspects of her work is seeing young players become passionate about the sport.

“When you get the little five-year-olds coming up to you after the game saying, ‘You were my ref! You were great! See you next season!’ It’s just so amazing," said McKnight.

Currently, McKnight said she is the only female lacrosse referee within the CWMLA – something she's mostly aware of while refereeing girls games, as the girls tend to ask her more questions about her role.

“It’s important for the other girls to see a female ref (referee) officiating," said McKnight, who adds she tries to referee for as many female tournaments as possible.

“Some of them want to be involved as timekeepers and they ask me questions about that, and some do want to be referees, which is awesome.”

Now 20, McKnight also balances refereeing with her academic studies. Currently, she is a third-year student at Wilfrid Laurier University, studying financial math with a minor in computer science. As she continues to be involved in lacrosse, McKnight said she is open to providing mentorship to younger referees who are also passionate about the game. 

"I would love to be a mentor to a new referee, show them the ropes or just get them super excited to be there, to be refereeing.”