Bittersweet Olympic assignment for beach volleyball referee Brig Beatie

Brig Beatie 7/17/2021-Brig Beatie
Brig Beatie at the 2019 World Championships in Hamburg/FIVB photo

For Brig Beatie, being chosen to officiate beach volleyball in the Tokyo Olympics is the pinnacle of his officiating career.

But the honor is bittersweet.

Beatie has succeeded his good friend Dan Apol.

“I would give it up in a second if he was the guy going to Tokyo,” Beatie said. “It’s hard to deal with.”

Apol died suddenly due to an aneurysm at age 44 while officiating a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference match in November 2016. Apol had been a beach referee at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics.

“The loss of my buddy Dan was not easy,” Beatie said. “We did almost everything together. We started at about the same time, got our ratings at the same time. It’s tough even going to the Olympics. It was a goal since I first started, to be in the Olympics. 

“We were always roommates, we would travel a lot together. He was supposed to stay at my house the day after he passed away. That was tough for everybody.”

Beatie, 50, lives in Clovis, California, with his wife Claire, 2-year-old son Beckett and newborn daughter Brooke, who arrived June 19. 

Beatie teaches kinesiology at Fresno State. He also teaches classes called the history of the Olympic games and sports psychology.

One typically doesn’t think of Fresno as a hotbed of beach volleyball, let alone beach volleyball officiating, but Beatie’s family all played volleyball. His parents played rec volleyball, and his older brother Rich played at Sanger High, although the boys’ program was canceled the year he started high school.

Beatie’s interest was piqued in 1990 and 1991, when the AVP tour came to Fresno. 

“All the guys, Sinjin Smith, Randy, Hov and Dodd, Karch Kiraly, all the guys were playing, and it just captivated me,” he recalled. “I went out there, and had a great time, and started to play pick up grass volleyball games.”

Beatie continued to play grass on the Bulldog grass volleyball circuit run by his friend Andy Gerrard, as well as playing pick-up sand volleyball at the Lost Lake beach courts in Fresno. 

He played outside hitter for the Fresno State men’s club team. One of his teammates was Ron Stahl, now a FIVB volleyball official. Stahl suggested that Beatie and Gerrard officiate. 

So Beatie officiated his way through college, working club and indoor volleyball. His beach officiating career began by chance when USA volleyball offered a beach certification clinic at the National Grass Championship in Incline, Nevada, in 1999. Beatie was playing in the pro division at that time, so attending the tournament was a no-brainer. 

He got certified, and met Steve Owen, then the assignor for the AVP. 

Beatie worked his first AVP at a tournament in Muskegon, Michigan.

“I got in my car, drove all the way to Muskegon. My first ever AVP match was a qualifier match with Casey Jennings and Scott Lane. Casey was just like he’s always been, he was super nice, wanted to know my name, and that went a long way for me, ‘Hey, this guy wants to know my name,’ and he talked to me after the match, and he was really cordial.

“That was my introduction to the whole AVP. After that, the next tournament was in Belmar, so I just kept driving to New Jersey.”

Beatie loved the opportunity so much he decided to work the next stop, Virginia Beach, for free. 

“I road tripped down to Virginia Beach with Dan Apol, even though I wasn’t even assigned, so I just helped with the crew, setting up nets, tearing down, hitting balls out into the crowd for promotions and calling lines a few times. 

“I didn’t get paid for Virginia Beach, all of this was on my own dime to get my foot in the door. And I got to experience the tour. It was fun. 

Beatie was hooked.

“The rest was history. My first roommate was B. (Brant) Lee. He showed me the ropes, he was nuts. He was using my shaver, walking around naked, it was just awkward B. Lee kind of stuff. He’s a character, to say the least.

“It was a fun introduction to the whole scene.”

Of course, the only thing better than being on the stand is actually playing on the sand. Beatie got his chance at the 2015 AVP Chicago. 

Beatie was officiating an exhibition set for Rakuten between Derek Olson and Jeremy Casebeer against Trevor Crabb and Japanese teammate Koichi Nishimura. It was a pre-semifinal Sunday-morning match designed to entertain the crowd and kill time between warmups, not necessarily for top-notch beach volleyball.

So Olson began arguing with Beatie to entertain the crowd. He further moved the line so that a ball mark was out and asked Brig to check it out.

Beatie came off the stand. And then … 

“Our sole purpose was to entertain the crowd,” Olson recalled. “And after half the set was over, I could tell that the last thing they wanted to see was mediocre volleyball when they were expecting semifinals and finals. 

“We pulled out all the cards we had, trick plays and skyballs. About mid-way through the set, I was arguing a call, and moved the line so it was out. I asked Brig to check the mark and continued to argue so he gave me a yellow card. 

“I switched hats with him, and as soon as he gave me his hat I went up on the ref stand and I told him to stop arguing with the ref and hurry up and play.

“I’m sure he was thinking, ‘What is going on?’ 

“The best part about all of it – it was funny, it was theatrical — but everybody was expecting Brig not to be able to do anything. But he played awesome. He was digging balls, running down balls, putting them away, scoring points, and that’s when the crowd got really excited.”

Together, Beatie, Olson and Casebeer managed to eke out the win over Nishimura and Crabb, in part due to some very questionable calls by Olson. 

“I think I called a clean exhibition match,” Olson said with a laugh.  

Beatie has now had the opportunity to officiate a number of four- and five-star FIVB events. The most prestigious was the 2019 World Championships in Hamburg, Germany.

As a rookie at that level of competition, he was surprised to get the call to officiate the men’s championships.

“Getting the call to work the men’s final, it was like, ‘What do you mean? What do you mean, me? How is that possible, I’m kind of the new kid on the block.’ ”

The final featured Germany’s Julius Thole and Clemens Wickler against Russia’s Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy. The 12,000-plus hometown fans were at fever pitch.

“It was unbelievable. Having Germany in the finals, I got to be the second ref in the semifinals, where Germany upset Norway, which was just a crazy, amazing match, and I thought, ‘I’m done. That was incredible.’ 

“Getting to ref Germany in Germany against Russia in the finals, it was just fantastic. The crowd was just unbelievable. Having the home team in it adds so much more, it was just electric. 

“It was hard not to get distracted. But once you’re in the game, it’s all volleyball. The energy was amazing, the DJs, it was pretty cool.”

Because he’s 50, Beatie has five years until mandatory retirement at 55 (although the FIVB has recently granted one-year extensions), so will likely get the opportunity to represent the USA at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

He heads to Tokyo on Monday, which gives the officials four days to prepare for the beach competition that begins July 24.

The crews will familiarize themselves with the courts, working with technology (microphones, earpieces, challenge systems) and working with the officiating crews of line judges, scorers and ball kids, as well as reviewing protocol.

He worked the Tokyo test event in July 2019, so Beatie remembers the oppressive Tokyo summer weather.

“It was super-hot. The heat and the humidity was just brutal. It was hard. The players were dropping like flies,” Beatie said.

“Since the Olympics are held on only one court, and matches are going well into the night, with an every-other-day schedule, it should be much easier than the test event.”

Beatie notes that as much as he enjoys having the best seat in the house for professional beach volleyball, it’s the camaraderie on both the national and international stages that keep him coming back.

“I like being part of the sport, I get to watch great volleyball. That’s my favorite part of officiating,” Beatie said. 

Beatie hesitated to list his favorite frieds on the circuit, noting that there are “too many: but “the list goes on and on of great folks in the officiating community. John King, Steve Funk, Lars (Hazen), Keith (Murless) and Suzanne (Lowry). They’re just great folks to be around …

“Working with other referees and getting to hang out with my fellow officials and share stories, those are the relationships that I really value. The AVP and FIVB officials are really tight.”

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