Making the calls as baby makes three
Holtkamp-Sterling set to be the first mother to officiate in the league
TAMPA, FLA.—Lauren Holtkamp and Jonathan Sterling first met a few years ago at a meeting of college basketball referees in Virginia, and when the group went out that night she asked him to dance.
He declined. The refs now agree: That was a bad call.
They eventually became the NBA’s first husband-and-wife refereeing duo, and now another first awaits this season when Holtkamp-Sterling — she goes by the hyphenated name now — is planning to become the first mother to officiate in the league. The couple became parents to a daughter, Stoan, this year.
“It is a different story,” Sterling said. “But for us as a couple, I think it’s just work.”
It’ll be a lot of work. NBA referees get their schedules about a month in advance, spend the bulk of their time on the road and when Holtkamp-Sterling returns to the court she and her husband will be running in opposite directions because there are no plans for them to be assigned to work on the same officiating crew for a game.
Having a baby at home only adds to the juggling act. The NBA has certain programs to make lives easier for new parents, such as paying for the shipping of breast milk when a mother is on the road for work. But the couple knows they’re embarking on a challenge, one similar in some aspects to what many other “regular” families have to address. In looking for ideas, they have researched what the military does for parents with new families, as well as the policies utilized by the WNBA, the LPGA Tour and the PGA Tour.
“I think in navigating this, what it means to be a married couple who are parents and NBA referees together — together and apart, right? — there’s just such an opportunity to figure it out and be creative,” Holtkamp-Sterling said. “I don’t want to overuse the word innovative, but I really think that is what it’s about … being able to find a path that works.”
The last time Holtkamp-Sterling worked a game was in the 2017-18 season. She missed last season with a knee injury that required surgery and she won’t be ready for the start of the regular season this year following abdominal surgery. She wants to be back as soon as possible.
“If you think about what all this means for family planning, that’s a unique challenge,” Holtkamp-Sterling said. “We’re travelling all over the United States and our work happens at night, which creates so many more questions. And as this process, knowing we have the support of our league and our union, goes along we’re just going to keep moving forward and see what happens.”
To the couple, it’s just life. It’s their new normal.
“We’ve gone two, three weeks without seeing one other during the season,” said Sterling, who made the full-time NBA ref ranks three years after Holtkamp-Sterling did. “It’s like two ships passing in the night. But we try to get together when we can on the road. And I think just being the first married couple on staff … it’s been very good so far.”
NBA referees Jonathan Sterling and Lauren Holtkamp-Sterling hold their daughter, Stoan. Both plan to call games this season.