Through her time at Churchill Public, on to the vaunted Lasalle Lancers basketball program, mixing in some club time with the Sudbury Lakers, and closing things off with the Humber Hawks of the OCAA, Alyssa (Ferreira) Spooney witnessed plenty of things on the court.
Looking back, it’s what she did not see that now most stands out.
“I never saw me on the court,” said the 32 year old mother of two who has worked her way through the officiating ranks to the point of becoming one of a very small handful of women from northern Ontario to be assigned to the post-secondary ranks.
“As a female official, I get to be a role model for others who come through the door - and we do have more female officials now, which is great.”
For as much as she received a great deal of support along the way, ascending the ladder of her part-time craft, Spooney noted that there is something to be said for having the ability to turn to those who truly understand the shoes in which you are standing.
“All of my prospect leaders have been males, and yes, they’ve all been great and have treated me with respect,” said the Sudbury native who now lives with husband Chris (also an accomplished basketball official) in Blind River. “But I think of others who I have worked with from the GTA and Ottawa and even out west - they have all had a female official to look up to.”
It has long been known that Spooney, then Ferreira, was passionate about basketball. That much was evident from her playing days.
“I was a creator, to be honest, and more of a defender,” she said. “I really enjoyed playing a full court press, putting the pressure on other teams. That’s more where I thrived as a player.”
And as seems to be the norm, her favourite memories have less to do with particular team accomplishments, and far more to do with those who shared in those moments. “I think that the opportunity to travel, to play in the tournaments and spend the time with people that you surround yourself with was most special,” said Spooney.
She was still very much consumed with her own athletic pursuits when the door first opened to another form of involvement with a sport that she loved. “In grade nine or ten, Charlie Ketter first approached me about officiating,” Spooney recalled. “I used it as a part-time job and it was good because they scheduled around my club basketball.”
With both a degree (Media Studies) and a diploma (Public Relations) in hand as she graduated from the University of Guelph-Humber a few years later, Spooney faced some key decisions.
“There comes a time when you realize that your playing days are over, but you want to stay in the game,” she said, balancing her time between both officiating and coaching.
“I was trying to figure out the right path for me. At the time, the doors were really opening up for young female officials. I was having opportunities based on my age, my athleticism, my knowledge of the game.”
Having opportunities is one thing. Taking advantage of them is a whole other matter entirely.
Spooney was more than aware eyes would be cast in her direction. “I had to show them that I was able to do the games I was assigned,” she said. “It’s doing the work: keeping physically fit, being able to run the floor - and my judgement is pretty good, for the most part.”
“It’s really about understanding your positioning on the floor, putting yourself in the best spot to make the right call. When you first get into the game, you don’t really understand that.”
While an element of confidence is clearly a good thing, so too is maintaining an awareness that experience is so often the best teacher. “I’ve been through a lot, and I have been able to look back and learn,” said Spooney. “You have to be open and willing to take that criticism from your peers.”
“I believe that being an official still has a competitive nature to it,” she added. “I’m competing against myself, because I want all of my calls to be as correct as possible. I want to be the best official that I can be.”
When one combines all of the above, success will likely follow. Already a veteran of many a SDSSAA championship final, Spooney still recalls her first OFSAA AAA boys basketball tournament in Ottawa.
“The gym was packed, the fans and players were so jacked up,” she stated. “I was yelling so loud, just so the players could hear me. That was the first time that I thought to myself that this is amazing, such an awesome experience.”
With an expanded scope of potential games comes an expanded scope of officiating partners. Still, there will always be something about working a game with the father of your children.
“I know Chris’ game, I know what he’s going to call, I know where he is going to be,” said Spooney, partnered from time to time with her spouse, one of only a handful of northern officials who have been entrusted to work the Sudbury Five battles with opponents from the National Basketball League of Canada.
“We’ve learned that when it comes to games, we treat each other the same as you would any other official, which can be hard. You don’t want any hard feelings, but there are still times when we go in at halftime and have a debate about a call.”
Having worked a CCAA national women’s championship, Spooney has her sights set on the equivalent event in the U Sport ranks, a level where the channel of communications between coaches and officials is always so critical.
“When I look back at my first year or two of doing the OCAA and OUA, I was extremely nervous to speak to a coach,” she said. “I wasn’t because I couldn’t explain what I called or why I called it, but you have these short opportunities during the game to speak during a dead ball, trying to answer their questions.”
In fact, Spooney stressed that it was this area, in general, where the greatest efforts have been made by the likes of the OABO (Ontario Association of Basketball Officials) and others to make use of the time off the court that all have had to deal with over the past year or so.
“During the pandemic, we’ve been putting in a lot of time, doing a lot of education around the way that we communicate with coaches, focusing on the basketball language that FIBA wants us using,” she said. “We need to work on that consistency in terms of how we speak to officials and how we speak to the players, using the proper terminology.”
“It’s been a great opportunity to learn.”
The more she learns, the more that Alyssa (Ferreira) Spooney can give back.
“There are women who are younger than me that are going to get great opportunities,” she said. “I just want to be there for them in any way possible."