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Behind the scenes with a ref: Stephenie Clay
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If you follow prep sports in the Coastal Empire, chances are you’ve spotted Stephenie Clay in a high school gym.
She’s the lady wearing a ref’s shirt with a whistle in one hand. And she’s one who had some good things to say about Richmond Hill recently.
But I’ll get to that later.
First, let me introduce you to Clay, who referees high school basketball and volleyball, and in her spare time makes trips to Atlanta to officiate cricket — the thoroughly British sport they play in the final episode of the last season of the show “Downton Abbey.”
“I really like cricket,” Clay said. “It’s different, but it’s an easy sport to officiate. I wish they would pick it up down here. They’ve got a lot of teams in the Atlanta area and in Florida, and I think they’d find kids here who could pick it up easily, especially those kids who have lived overseas.”
Truth is, even if you took cricket out of the mix, there are few sports Clay hasn’t umpired, officiated or refereed since her days as a student in the early 1980s at Concordia Lutheran University in Texas, where she played basketball and volleyball and ran track.
“Back then, playing sports was all we had to do,” she said. “Either that or work.”
After graduating college, Clay got even busier.
“I got married, had kids and we went overseas,” she said. “I worked for the government the whole time, but also did some coaching in the German American League and for (United States Army Europe).”
At the same time, Clay, a mom and full-time government employee, gave private lessons while officiating multiple sports in American military communities in Germany, Italy and Spain — and she did it because she saw a need.
“They needed some American refs,” she said. “So, I went ahead and did it.”
She’s kept on doing it, too. Ask her how many games she’s been part of and she can’t tell you. What she can tell you is she doesn’t plan on stopping.
“I’ll keep going until I feel like I can’t go no more,” Clay said recently. “I love it for the kids.”
A former basketball MVP and volleyball standout at Cleveland High in Texas, Clay was good enough as both an athlete and a student to get academic and athletic scholarships to Concordia Lutheran. She has also coached, babysat and acted as a team mom, or been a second mom to many.
It’s especially true since the Clays — her husband Dale, son Dale and daughter Shontavia — moved to Hinesville in the mid-1990s.
Stephenie Clay helped coach teams at both Hinesville Middle and Snelson Golden, and also for the Liberty County Recreation Department and AAU. The Clays’ children, meanwhile, were middle and high school standouts who turned into high school standouts.
Her son played football and basketball and baseball and ran track at Bradwell. Shontavia played basketball and volleyball and ran cross country and track at Liberty County High School — that was after she gave up a try at playing quarterback for Snelson-Golden Middle School.
Nowadays her son, who went to Rainy River Community College in Minnesota to play basketball, is coaching AAU teams in Baton Rouge. Shontavia got her criminal justice and homeland security degree from Savannah State on Dec. 7.
Mom, meanwhile, is still doing it all and she’s a proud grandmother. Her granddaughter, LaShanta, 5, made it to the nationals in youth track – “She got first in everything she ran except the 200,” Clay said — while her grandson VaShawn, 10, plays basketball and football. It runs in the family.
And because of that, out of all her games, those she’s officiated and those she watched, one of her son’s games at BI stands out — when Bradwell took on Beach in the Region 3-AAAAA tournament in February 2004.
The powerhouse Bulldogs held on for a 73-68 win in double overtime. Her son had 10 points and 11 assists and just missed a 3-pointer with five seconds left that would’ve tied the game and sent it into a third overtime.

Read full story in Jan. 4 issue of the Bryan County News. 

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