March Madness may be over, but one University of North Texas alumna still has basketball on her mind.
Jenna Reneau (BA 2015) has loved basketball for as long as she can remember. Now, her love for the sport is being actualized in her role as a basketball referee for the National Basketball Association's G League and for several collegiate athletic conferences.
Reneau is from Krum, Texas, where she got her start playing the sport in elementary school. After graduating from Krum High School, she went on to earn her degree in Communication Studies from UNT.
She chose to pursue a degree in Communication Studies after taking a tour of the department; the degree plan made sense to her and she was intrigued by the courses offered compared to other majors. During Reneau's time at UNT she learned a lot from her communication courses, especially the art of non-verbal communication. She picked up on learning how to read people and interpreting what messages they are communicating through their body language and vocal qualities.
Reneau recalled two of her favorite courses were Communication and Sportand Gender and Communication, and added that everyone in the Department of Communication Studies was a phenomenal teacher. Reneau really liked anything dealing with conflict management because that has become such an important aspect of her career.
Some of Reneau's favorite memories at UNT included working on projects because of the rewarding outcome of learning how to communicate with a group and make decisions. Reneau thought it was fun having her own role when working in groups, and she elaborated, "I like doing teamwork. I'm more of a teamwork individual than me completely on my own." One of her favorite projects was a video about the Will Ferrell movie Anchormanin Dr. Richardson's Communication and Sport class.
Even though Reneau began a career in marketing after graduation, once she was offered an officiating job with the National Basketball Association she had to make a career choice due to the travel schedule of a referee. For Reneau, the decision was easy because she just had to follow her passion.
As a college student, "you're trying to figure out what your passion is, what you're good at, and what you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life," she said. She grew up playing basketball and has always had a feel for the game, "that's the constant in my life that I've always known."
After graduating high school, Reneau began refereeing youth volleyball games and her peers suggested she try basketball games. Once she began officiating basketball she knew she had found her niche. She officiated as many games as she could. "I just fell in love with it," Reneau said.
Her career progressed in an unorthodox way because she was asked to officiate college games before she had refereed for high school contests. She was hired by a mid-level athletic conference before eventually officiating high school games.
Reneau described calling her first-ever game, "You're nervous before the game, you study the rules, you study the tape, and then once you get on the floor you're nervous until the ball goes up, then you just have to work and you just have to concentrate, you just have to do your job. You can't be nervous anymore."
Reneau began her career with an affiliation with the North Texas Basketball Officials Association (NTBOA), but she currently works for the Great Southwest Officials Association (GSOA). Being able to pursue her passion is a checks and balances system of managing her time between studying, family, work, and still being able to rest and take care of her body.
As tough as it is, she said "it is something that I love and I wouldn't choose any other career." Her love for officiating shows in her dedication to the job. In 2013, Reneau won the NTBOA's Iron Woman of The Year Award for working more games than any other official that season.
She laughed and said, "I don't like a lot of attention like that, so I was kind of embarrassed, but it was a good embarrassment." She recalled always being ready during her first year officiating high school games because at any time she could receive a phone call requesting her to work games at a moment's notice. The word she used to describe her passion for officiating is "obsessed" and she said "I always made sure I could work any game because that is how much I loved it. From little kids, to working ten games in one day, to them asking me to go to a game that's over an hour away. I would work any game I could."
Dr. Brian Richardson, chair of the Communication Studies department, is not surprised to see this former student achieving success in the world of basketball officiating. "Jenna was a fantastic student; she's a hard worker and her officiating job is a perfect fit considering her enthusiasm for sports."
Reneau describes Communication Studies as a really good major, especially for those who are undecided about their passion. "It has a broad focus so there's a specific spot for every person."
Reneau recently came back to the university to speak to the students in Dr. Richardson's Communication and Sport course. She described her experiences to the students and showed them examples of calls she made on the court. Students were then able to ask Reneau questions about her journey to becoming a professional basketball official. One student asked, "Has being a woman contributed to any sexism or disregard on the court?"
Reneau responded that her gender has not really affected her experience as a referee. "You have to be tough and understand where the players are coming from," she said. Reneau has had several face-to-face confrontations with players who were upset with one of her calls. She said she has implemented several concepts from her Communication Studies' courses to deescalate situations and display empathy to players while also maintaining her composure on the court.
Reneau also discussed the amount of work that goes into officiating with the preparation before the game, decisions during the game, and debriefing after the game. "Officiating is more than just showing up and making some calls on the court," she said, "It's getting there early, it's staying up late, it's being aware and accountable of what happens on the court."
While NCAA basketball and March Madness may have just ended a week ago, the NBA playoffs are starting up. Still, even when the playoffs end, Jenna Reneau will not get much of a break. She works year round building her skills and implementing Communication Studies techniques to become the best basketball official she can be.