Huntington Beach’s Jenn McCall taking her referee whistle to Paris Olympics

Jenn McCall has been named a water polo referee for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Jenn McCall has been named a water polo referee for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. McCall will make history, becoming the first American woman to ever referee water polo at the Olympics.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Jenn McCall was born in September 1984, just weeks after the Summer Olympics had their closing ceremonies in Los Angeles.

McCall has never been to an Olympics as a spectator, but the Huntington Beach resident is headed to Paris this summer in what amounts to the work trip of a lifetime.

McCall was one of two United States referees selected to referee water polo at the Paris Olympics. When that first match begins, she will become the first female U.S. referee to ever referee water polo at the Olympics.


She learned the good news last month when the Spanish referee sent her the electronic summons over WhatsApp, congratulating her. Official recognition soon poured in, including a nice email from USA Water Polo congratulating McCall and the other American referee headed to Paris, Darren Spiritosanto.

“It’s amazing,” McCall said. “I knew it was a possibility, just because of the other females that are on the list and the tournaments leading up to this. But it’s just really cool. I got a lot of congratulations from friends and people that I haven’t talked to since high school, things like that. But I also got a lot of outreach from young female athletes and referees, like, ‘Thank you so much for what you do.’”

Jenn McCall has been named a water polo referee for the 2024 Olympic Games.
Huntington Beach resident Jenn McCall has been named a water polo referee for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris this summer.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

What McCall does is referee water polo games and plenty of them, about 500 per year by her estimate. She’s one of the most recognizable referees in Orange County, though she knows part of the reason for that.

“People always remember the young, blonde female,” she said with a smile. “That’s how it always was for me. But if you’re a guy, it’s like, just another guy referee, you know?”

McCall, 39, is the oldest of six children, five of them females and all of them water polo players. She put in the work after playing the sport at Rosary High, University of the Pacific and USC, graduating from college in 2008 with a psychology degree and a minor in kinesiology.

She eventually became a paralegal and stayed around the sport. One day, she was running a water polo tournament and a situation came up.

“A referee had to leave early, and I had the white clothes and everything,” McCall said. “I was like, ‘Well, I’m a certified referee,’ so I got out there and reffed the rest of the day for him. It wasn’t so bad, so that kind of got me over my fear of blowing the whistle in a game.”

She counted late longtime Sunny Hills and Servite coach Jim Sprague, as well as high-level referee Gary Robinett, as early mentors. Both are USA Water Polo Hall of Fame members.

Jenn McCall referees at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar in February.
Jenn McCall referees at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar in February.
(Courtesy of Jenn McCall)

Mitch Carty also has known McCall for a long time, as he recruited her when he was coaching at Whittier College. Carty is now the Big West Conference coordinator of officials, as well as a high school water polo coach at La Habra High.

“Jenn does everything the right way,” said Carty, who’s also the chief financial officer for the CIF Southern Section. “It’s her passion, so it’s truly fantastic to see someone achieve something like this for something that they’re passionate about … She’s the type of person where if you’re a coach and you see her walk on the deck, you say, ‘OK, good. At least we know that it’s going to be a well-officiated, fair game.’ And she’s going to have expectations, and there’s going to be consequences. She does a good job of making sure that line is very firm.”

McCall quickly made her way through the ranks on domestic soil. She refereed her first NCAA women’s water polo national championship game in 2022.

She’s also been on the World Aquatics (formerly FINA) referee list since 2017, making her one of 10 United States officials eligible for international competitions. McCall and Spirtosanto blew their whistles at the World Aquatics Championships last summer in Fukuoka, Japan — delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic — as well as the same tournament held in February of this year in Doha, Qatar.

Her advice for young referees, in part, is to always say “yes” to assignments or just soaking up the game. Just last week, she went to watch a college match just because she was in the area.

“My biggest thing is to be a student of the game, don’t take things personally and just get better every time,” she said. “We never stop learning, even from younger referees.”

McCall is slated to referee the U.S. women’s national team’s match against Australia on Tuesday night at Long Beach City College.

Jenn McCall hopes she doesn't have to hand out any yellow or red cards at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris this summer.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“It takes a lot of time,” said Amber Drury, a USA Water Polo Hall of Fame member who has been the NCAA coordinator of officials since 2019. “Just whistling games, and also the volunteer time. She assigns for the [Southern Pacific Zone], so she gives back her time to the sport in a lot of ways in addition to actually whistling games. There’s a lot involved. Yes, you have to be a good referee, but it’s also just being a well-rounded person in our sport. It takes a lot of time and effort, and she has definitely given that.

“I can speak for other female referees that it’s past due, and it’s fantastic to have her there,” Drury added. “I’m really looking forward to watching her work on that grand stage. It’s going to be awesome.”

McCall is excited, too. She said she looks forward to watching sports like beach volleyball and gymnastics in Paris during the work downtime.

Walking on that particular pool deck, though, will surely be an unforgettable experience, even though she’s done that thousands of times in her refereeing career.

“You have to love what you do,” McCall said. “I work full time in a very demanding job. When I walk away from my computer and come out to the pool deck, this is my happy place. Then there’s some times when you walk off and you’re like, ‘Wow, that wasn’t fun today.’ But I think there’s something inside you that brings you back the next day, and I think that’s just passion for the sport.”