On a Saturday evening in March, the Grand Park Events Center played host to a semi-professional soccer match as it has many times before. FC Indy City of the United Premier Soccer League welcomed in Inter Detroit of the Midwest Premier League.
Despite it seeming like any normal game for the players and those in attendance, along the sideline, history was being made. Dana Hackney, at just 15-years-old and 4-feet-11-inches tall, became the youngest referee to officiate a semi-professional match in Indiana.
“It was one of the best moments I have had in a really long time,” said Hackney. “This is why I love it. It was a real rush of adrenaline.”
Hackney has cemented herself as a strong official in the Hoosier state, an impressive feat when considering she has only been a referee for three years. In Indiana, the youngest age one can become a licensed referee is 12. With Dana’s love for soccer and outgoing personality, it didn’t take her long to find a flag in her hand and a whistle to her lips.
“There aren’t many jobs a 12-year-old can get, but I knew I’d get to be around soccer so it sounded pretty cool,” Dana said.
Hackney quickly began working her way through the ranks. Between club, academy, and MLS Next games, she garnered plenty of experience before finding herself on the sideline that Saturday night at Grand Park.
It’s not just the thrill and excitement of the beautiful game that draws Dana to putting on a referee jersey. When asked about her favorite parts of being a referee she could add to the list for seemingly forever. Certainly near the top of her list are the relationships she has developed over her time.
“I love the people that I’m surrounded by and have the opportunity to work with,” said Dana. “I’ve developed so many great friendships and everyone is so welcoming and accepting.”
One of the relationships Dana has built is with State Referee Administrator Samir Yasa. While Dana was preparing to referee a tournament in Northwest Indiana, Yasa was the one who gave her a call and offered the AR1 position of the aforementioned semi-pro game. Across the field from Dana on that Saturday evening was Thom Parks, the State Director of Assignors, District Administrator, and experienced official.
“We watch thousands of referees and thousands of games looking for someone with Dana’s talent,” commented Yasa. “I did not have to look too far. Dana was playing in the ODP program while also refereeing in January when I saw her.”
“It was so cool that Thom was the other AR that night,” added Dana. “It was great to ask questions and calm some of my nerves before what was by far the biggest game I’ve ever done.”
Dana’s goals and ambitions don’t end with that semi-pro contest in March. As she moves into her junior year of high school, at the end of which she will graduate, she’s already looking toward the next steps.
As soon as she graduates, Hackney plans to get her Indiana High School Athletic Association license. Alongside the IHSAA, Dana wants to get her U.S. Soccer Regional Referee License, a move that would allow her to officiate regional events and professional leagues including NPSL and USL League Two.
Recently, Dana returned from Ohio where she and 14 other Indiana referees officiated contests at the Presidents Cup Regionals. Unsurprisingly, Hackney had a strong performance at the event.
“As a 16-year-old first-timer at Regionals, Dana commanded the game very well,” added Yasa. “She even issued a yellow card to the tallest player on the field.”
As a player for Hamilton Southeastern High School and Indy Premier Soccer Club, Hackney has also achieved success. In the spring of 2020, Dana landed her name on the roster of the 2005 Girls Indiana State ODP team.
“We love to see our Indiana ODP players doing more than just playing the game,” commented Indiana ODP Director Todd Sheely. “Dana is giving back to the game and at the same time doing it at a high level.”
Dave Guthrie, Indiana Soccer’s Executive Director, stated “It is wonderful to see a young lady not only excel as a player but also as a referee. Dana demonstrates how success is available to those that are willing to invest the hard work and commitment to achieve excellence. I am confident that we will see more accomplishment from Dana in the next several years.”
There are many benefits to becoming a referee at any level, something that Hackney recognized early on. The young but experienced referee has one major piece of advice for people considering becoming a ref.
“Just give it a shot,” said Hackney. “It gives you a completely different outlook on the game and gives you a new respect for referees.”
The Indiana State Referee Association routinely offers U.S. Soccer Grassroots Referee courses as well as Small Sided Certifications. Interested in learning more? Visit www.indianareferees.org.