PBA's first woman referee relishes historic role
(philstar.com) - July 18, 2016 - 9:13am

MANILA, Philippines – When the opening match of the PBA Governors’ Cup — between the Meralco Bolts and the Phoenix Petroleum Masters — tipped off last Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, aside from the new imports seeing action in the league, there was a noticeable difference.

A pony-tailed lady in the black and white stripes of a basketball referee strode onto the floor with her male counterparts. Janine Nicandro made PBA history by becoming the first female to officiate a match in the league’s 41-year existence.

For a neophyte official, she was decisive with her calls. Maybe she was nervous but she didn’t show it. In fact, she was cool. Calm even when she slapped the first technical foul of the game and the conference on Phoenix’s Mark Borboran after he uttered profane language following a call he disagreed with.

While there were some spotty moments, Nicandro conducted herself in a very professional manner and had more or less a successful debut as a PBA referee as she received a lot of positive comments from the league and the public.

It’s kind of funny because being on a basketball court was the farthest from Janine’s mind or even ambitions.

Growing up in Pagsanjan, Laguna, Nicandro had dreams of glory on the volleyball court and eventually, a successful business. She didn’t even watch basketball.

“I grew up watching Shakey’s V-League,” she admits. Inspired by the likes of Ateneo’s Fille Cainglet and Dzi Gervacio, Janine played for her elementary and high school volleyball teams in Laguna. When she was in college, she tried out for both the women’s volleyball and basketball teams of the Laguna State Polytechnic University.

However, she received the shock of her life when she was accepted in basketball team… where she was to play center for the LSPU Lakers!

“I couldn’t believe that I was accepted. I think my coaches were somehow impressed. And, yes, my team was called ‘the Lakers,'” she laughs at her school team’s nickname. And true enough, her LSPU Lakers won a championship in the State Colleges and Universities Athletic Association.

Nicandro graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Entrepreneurship.

“My plan was to gain some corporate experience before putting up my own business; at least that was the plan,” she related.

That bit of experience came when she found herself working in a LPG company. Bored, she found her way to a most unlikely destination in the PBA upon the prodding of a friend from Laguna.

She entered the referee’s program under former Commissioner Chito Salud who would oft try to discourage the female referee.

“That was reverse psychology,” explained Nicandro. “The Commissioner told us, ‘Can you get the job done? The PBA is a volatile place where no one is pleased with any one call. Some will yell at you; others will cuss you. Are you sure you can handle this and not cry at all?’ But you know what? I became all the more determined to make it.”

She first learned the ropes in the PBA Developmental League before getting the call-up to the PBA by current Commissioner Chito Narvasa.

“When I first learned that I was going to be promoted, I couldn’t believe it,” she recalls of her promotion. “I hoped for it but didn’t assume that I would pass. I thought that I needed to gain even more experience. The great thing about being called up was that was the same day as my mother’s birthday. It made for a nice birthday gift for her.”

Being a newbie to the game, Janine constantly watches, reads, and studies the game.

“It is different when you look at the game from the point of view of an official as opposed to a fan. You need to change your mind set. When you successfully transition to a different point of view, you realize you’re more calm and less prone to emotion.”

When she was drawn for the Meralco-Phoenix match, Nicandro was surprised to hear her name called out. “My mind couldn’t process what I heard. It was totally unexpected. It seemed like things were moving too fast. Inside the referee’s locker room, I had to hold back my tears of joy. And before we went out to the court, my colleagues told me to relax and embrace my fear.”

With her first officiated match out of the way, Janine looks forward to her next assignment.

“For me, I am not thinking about making history. It’s all about calling the game the right way and making as few mistakes as possible. All I need to do is continue to improve my craft and learn. That’s all there is to it."

"I dreamed I'd play in the Shakey's V-League but the PBA, well, that's a different level."

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