By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, October 10, 2019
Don Hougardy, Denice Wepasnick and Clark Hammond have all served as officials at several past Olympic Trials – and all three are excited to be coming back to Omaha again in 2020.
Each brings more than 20 years of meet officiating experience, and all were recently selected and notified by USA Swimming that they will once again join the best swimmers in the United States on the deck of the CHI Health Center.
They will all play a role in helping select the next U.S. Olympic team headed for Tokyo next summer, and to say that they are eager to come back is a definite understatement.
“To come together with friends from all over the country (many of whom I haven't seen for several years) to officiate at what is arguably the most important swim meet consistently held on American soil is an amazing experience,” said Hougardy, the CFO of a real estate development and management firm in Pullman, Wash.
Hammond, who hails from Birmingham, Ala., agrees, saying that the unpredictability and history of Trials is what makes his experience rewarding each time he does it.
“Watching old friends striving to once again be able to compete at the Olympics and the up-and-comers establishing themselves as the future of our sport make Trials very special for me,” he said. “At every Trials, there is a passing of the torch from the previous Olympians to the new.
“It is both a bittersweet experience as you watch athletes you have had the pleasure of watching for years just fall short of their goal and at the same time, it’s exciting to see the next generation step up to meet the challenge.”
Wepasnick is a FINA starter for USA Swimming and will serve as the Head Starter for next year’s Trials.
She said her main duties will be to create the rotation of duties for the starter referee team and provide support to the starters and of course the meet ref.
It’s her second Trials in this role (third overall), so she will provide insight and support to the other three who have not started before at Trials.
Hougardy was selected by USA Swimming to be one of seven Lead Chief Judges for Trials. His job involves organizing and instructing the technical judges, serving as a liaison between the technical judges and the Deck Referees, notifying swimmers when they have been disqualified and providing operational paperwork during the meet.
Hammond returns to 2020 Trials as the Meet Referee as chosen by the Chair of the National Officials Committee and the Chair of the Program and Events Committee of USA Swimming.
In 2008, he served as a Stroke and Turn official. In 2012, he was a deck referee and an underwater referee. And in 2016, he was the Lead Chief Judge.
He describes the Meet Referee role as being like a captain of a large ship – as he or she has overall responsibility for the conduct of the meet.
“A swim meet, like the large ship, requires the skills of many people to run smoothly,” Hammond said. “The Meet Referee is the leader that organizes this team to run a safe and fair competition.”
Hammond, who grew up swimming in the Fort Lauderdale area, got involved with officiating through his children, as did Wepasnick and Hougardy, who are not swimmers themselves.
As parents do, they said they got tired of just sitting in the stands during their meets, so they became involved as officials at various levels.
It wasn’t long before they found themselves on deck at some bigger meets – and now, they all have experience as Trials officials on multiple occasions.
Suffice it to say, all three are honored and excited to have been chosen to officiate in Omaha once again.
“This is quite an honor,” Hougardy said. “USA Swimming has many good national level officials, and to be selected from that group is very special.”
“Officiating at Trials is likely the highest honor any of us will achieve,” Hammond said. “It is a result of many years of dedication and a recognition that we have exhibited the type of aptitude and attitude that is necessary to fulfill this role.
“A key component is that we believe the benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer, and at the same time we seek to ensure that the competition is conducted so that every athlete is provided fair and equitable conditions of competition.”