Don’t ever count out Raven Lake
We’ve seen Raven Lake and her daughter, Samantha (Bambi) Hall become familiar faces at CAC reunions over the past five years, using the Vancouver-based All-Star Wrestling as a home address, and a great example of an organization that values all members’ contributions. Sometimes, when one door closes, there’s another window of opportunity to be opened. During an interview for a recent issue of The EAR, All-Star’s senior referee, Kevin Jefferies alerted us to the recent news that Raven had taken on officiating duties following her retirement from active competition. In her short time since assuming the official’s role, Jefferies was impressed with how naturally Lake had taken to the position. What a great opportunity to find Raven Lake to get her own perspective, we thought. We began the conversation by mentioning Jefferies’ compliments. “It’s a huge honor to hear that Kevin Jefferies thinks I’m doing well,” Raven said.
What followed, however, was an alarming back story. “My transition wasn’t my decision.,” Lake revealed. “The neurologist back home told me I suffered a few concussions, and I have memory loss. I took some speech therapy to get my speech back.” What could have been an exercise in frustration was a showcase for Raven’s drive to recover. “At first it took me three weeks to even put together a full sentence,” Lake said. “I worked hard with the speech therapy and memory because I wanted to be with my family.”
Undeterred, Raven’s passion to be involved with wrestling led her to the arbiter’s role. “I definitely miss getting in there and wrestling with the girls, but I’m loving the refereeing! I’m having a lot of fun, still interacting with the fans,” Lake said.
It’s easy to spot the growing confidence Raven Lake has as she discusses how working in the referee capacity opens your eyes to wider perspectives of what goes into building a great match. “When you’re working in there and actually wrestling, you don’t pay much attention to the referees; you know, you listen for the counts and for the breaks and stuff like that, and just hope that the refs stay out of your way! And now, on the other side being a ref, having worked before, I know my position in the ring, I know where I need to be… and where I need NOT to be,” Lake said.
Add Raven to the list of those who appreciate the value of the third participant in the match. “A lot of young kids think they just go in and do their match; they don’t stop and think that the referee is in there for you; to help you if something goes wrong in the match. Use them as part of the show. The kids need to start thinking, and take the time to talk to them before that match. Take somebody like Kevin; he can go in there if there’s something he can help them with, he throws it in there. Use your ref because they’re a huge part of the match,” Lake said.
When asked if the nebulous “wrestling rulebook” takes on a more tangible quality when involved as the official, Lake points to a number of nuances that she has been able to impart to younger talent… many times as the bout is in progress. “On the last show we just did, one of the young kids wasn’t paying attention, and he flipped the guy over in a snapmare, and then he punted him, like toe-kicked him, and I’ve had that happen to me before,” Lake recalls. “So I’m in there telling him that NO, you can’t kick them like that! Or ‘keep your hands open; you’re gonna knock the kid out’… or five counts to break. It’s amazing actually how many of the young ones don’t know; you have to keep reminding them. Start your count, give them a little whisper. As time goes by, they realize what is going on.”
As with any craft that needs mastering, officiating is something where real-time experience is key, and doing homework by watching those more experienced provides remarkable reinforcement to in-ring training. “When you’re just a wrestler, versus a referee, you go in and do your things; you don’t pay attention to anything else. I think a worker should also do some refereeing because it enlightens things,” Lake said. “Plus I think it should be vice-versa; if you have some of the older vets transitioning in, then you know you’re gonna have a damn good ref, because they already know what’s going on It helps you get a feel for the ring positioning, where the hard cams are, for once you get in there, especially since it’s such a TV product nowadays and everybody’s trying to get TV. And when you’re watching YouTube or RAW, you can rewind these days! Do playback; watch the match and see what the workers are doing, then go back and watch the referee.”
YouTube as a resource is a beneficial way to access almost anything you can think of searching for. In terms of wrestling matches and aesthetics, Raven Lake has discovered clips detailing the good, the bad, and the unfortunate ugly in terms of referee quality. “We watch a lot. Sam and my 16-year old daughter, who is also training to be a wrestler… we see some of those refs get in there with cutoff jeans and with ratty tennis shoes! You’re an official in there, you’re the law,” Lake said. “You need to look professional, not stand in the corner with your arms resting on the top rope. People just want to be part of our profession and think they can watch a couple videos, climb in and be a wrestler or ref. Well, you can’t. You’re disrespecting everybody else in the business. If you can’t be professional, you need to go.”
Raven’s advice is not gender-exclusive, “For the other women referees in there, put your hair back. Don’t have it flappin’ in your face,” Lake said. “When you’re down there for the count, you’re looking under their shoulders …people want to see where you’re looking; they need to know that you’re paying attention. It’s the small things; people are there to see a good match…to see the workers, but they’re watching the referees just as much, looking for them to stop the guy working on the other side…things like that.”
Gaining respect as a member of the wrestling profession takes time, but Raven Lake has built her career as much on humility and an eagerness to learn as anything, and laments the many situations where courtesy and basic understanding of giving that respect is missed. “The kids don’t look at the refs as being as important as they are. A guy like Kevin… look where he’s been! He has just as many accolades as any wrestler He’s worked for the Fed, he’s toured… done plenty of stuff,” Lake said. “If it wasn’t for the ref, you’d have a brawl. You know, it’s tough to recruit referees; a lot of people just want to be the workers, not understanding that refs are just as important. I think you should start as a referee.”
Next, Raven is given a leading question. When prompted to talk about a referee’s assignments for any given night, she takes the overt hint to give her assessment of what kind of condition and pacing is needed to be fully effective between the ropes. “As a worker, you do YOUR match, and you’re done for the night. When refereeing I’m doing three or four matches a night…I find it more physical, trying to keep up with everything… and with my condition, I’m finding it a little more difficult,” Lake said. “I’m lucky enough with our family that we’ve got there (at All-Star Wrestling), they’re very understandable about my head, so they look after me.”
While the referees tend to be a part of the fabric of wrestling and don’t often find their names on the nightly lineup sheet, you may be seeing Raven Lake’s name on the card, albeit in yet another role. “I’m thinking of maybe even moving into managing and being a valet. That way, I can still be part of it,” Lake smirks. “You know, scoop a leg, or…I can still knock people on their ass!”
Don’t ever count Raven Lake out of the equation.
— Jeff Sharkey