Jenna Schroeder was an aggressive player in college, fouling out in two of her first three games as a guard at Saginaw Valley State and even picking up a technical foul for a colourful comment.
She remembers that moment well.
“I told the referee where to shove it,” Schroeder said.
That tale makes her career choice seem more than a bit ironic.
Schroeder was promoted Tuesday by the NBA to full-time official status, making her the fourth woman on the league’s current referee roster and the sixth in league history. The move comes after stints in college, the WNBA and the G League.
“I started refereeing when I was in high school and after I graduated college and had more time, I just sort of fell into it,” Schroeder said. “Someone looked at me one day and asked why I didn’t just do it as a profession, and I said, ‘You can do that?'“
Yes, she can.
She joins Lauren Holtkamp-Sterling, Ashley Moyer-Gleich and Natalie Sago as the women on the NBA’s current referee list. Their two predecessors were Dee Kantner and Violet Palmer.
Even though women are more commonly playing key roles in the NBA now – as assistant coaches, in the front offices, as broadcasters and by handling the whistle in games – Schroeder knows she still will be considered a trendsetter. And she’s comfortable with that role.
“I think you have to promote things like this because otherwise people wouldn’t hear about it and it would still be like an anomaly,” Schroeder said. “If we didn’t hear about Dee and Violet the first time, we’d still be wondering if it was possible. If we didn’t hear about Ashley and Natalie, we’d still be wondering. And yes, definitely, I want to be part of that.”
NBA vice-president and head of referee development Monty McCutchen has been saying since he retired as an active ref and went to the league office that it’s important to him to find the women who deserve an opportunity. He watched Schroeder and others closely at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and decided the time was right to give her this chance.
Schroeder got the call without ever working a regular-season game as a non-staff official. She has three years of experience in the G League and two in the WNBA. She also has spent seven seasons as a college official in the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Atlantic 10 and American Athletic conferences.
“Jenna has shown the requisite skill on the court and the knowledge of our rules to earn an opportunity to officiate NBA regular-season games,” McCutchen said. "She is the latest example of the NBA G League’s impact as a valuable pipeline for our NBA officiating staff.”
Schroeder will continue to work some G League games, as is standard for all NBA referees with less than four years of service.
“I was shocked by the timing of it,” Schroeder said. “But I was obviously hoping this was my year. Nobody’s ever truly ready, but I’m as ready as I can be.”