17-year-old Patricia McCracken to officiate 5A boys soccer championship game

(Photo courtesy of Patricia McCracken)

Patricia McCracken is the exception to a lot of unwritten rules. Typically, a high school official needs to be at least 18 years old, especially for a game as significant as a state championship.

But McCracken has already graduated from a high school. She's already spent time traveling the country and officiating high-level games featuring the best high school and club soccer players around.

So when it was time for assignments in regard to the Colorado soccer state championship games, she didn't draw the Class 5A game for the sake of being the exception to a rule.

She got it because in terms of knowing the rules and enforcing them on the pitch, she's proven to be exceptional.

"Even though she's young, she has a lot of experience," High School Soccer Officials Association president Ken Hehir said. "She's refereed a lot of big games. She's very fit, she's very fast, she understands the game and I think at that level she is more than capable of being assistant referee on the big game."

She is the shining example that young officials can succeed in what has become a volatile environment at times. Even at 17, however, she understands the pressures and the criticisms that come with officiating.

And maybe she had the right idea. She has been working as an official for about five years starting at the youth level and has learned how to be tough when it comes to the issues that have been attributed into driving officials away from their respective games.

(Photo courtesy of Patricia McCracken)

"I've just learned since I started at such a young age to build up the thick skin," McCracken said. "It was definitely hard at first, but honestly I'm able to turn a blind eye to it or to deal with it when it becomes necessary to deal with."

Of all the options that Hehir had when it came to the game, McCracken's credentials were every bit as solid as anyone else he could have chosen. She has already been tagged as an up-and-comer after her selection as the Colorado Referee Administration's young referee of the year and she fits in with the way that Colorado has been shifting in its way games are being called.

"We are encouraging younger officials and with the move away from free whistle to the traditional whistle and flags, which we call a diagonal system of control," he said. "The move back to that system, which is what the rest of the world uses, she has a lot of experience on that side."

There is an added benefit to having her on Friday night's game, it's a clear message that younger officials can succeed and work their way into big-game situations. Although, he clarified that her selection was no done just to send a message.The Denver native and graduate of the Denver School of the Arts has earned it.

She admits that when it came to playing soccer, she was analytical and understanding of the game, she just wasn't the best when it came to actually handling the ball. Her future in the game wasn't dead, she was just taking a different route to see it at the highest levels.

"It's an amazing way to stay with the sport and stay with what you love," McCracken said. "Even if you are a high-level player, there are a lot of referees out there that played at very high level and it's a way to understand the sport."

And to be involved. The goal is always to be involved and when the whistle blows to signify the start of Friday night's state championship game, there will be no doubt that she is standing right where she belongs.

(Photo courtesy of Patricia McCracken)