The first time Vernon’s Cole Shoemaker refereed a soccer game, he was too scared to be in the middle of the field.
That was nine years ago. Now, all fear is gone as he makes his way up the international officiating ladder.
Shoemaker, 21, is currently in Bradenton, Florida, officiating at the Concacaf U15 soccer championship, where the winner goes to the U15 World Cup. He officiated a match between the USA and Guatemala, served as fourth official (support official) in another match and was waiting for his next assignment.
He was nominated by Canada Soccer earlier this year for Concacaf’s Program of Referee Excellence, a six-week venture that saw Shoemaker spend three weeks in Florida in April, where he officiated a Concacaf U17 qualifying match between Belize and Dominica, and is now in the three-week certification phase.
“Every time you work at this level, there is an expectation of performance. All eyes are on you,” said Shoemaker from Bradenton on a day off. “It will test you, but it will help send you to the next stage.”
A graduate of W.L. Seaton Secondary in 2015, Shoemaker has been involved in soccer since he learned how to walk.
He began playing in Vernon Parks and Recreation’s highly popular Little Kickers program, moved into North Okanagan Youth Soccer’s mini program, worked his way up through the rep and development squads, and spent three years in high school in the Whitecaps FC Academy.
Shoemaker moved to Victoria for school, preparing for his fifth year in the University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business (took last year off), and where his colleagues mentioned his officiating prowess on the school’s Facebook page.
He hones his officiating skills working Div. 1 Vancouver Island Soccer League games, Canadian U Sports matches and games for Victoria-based Pacific FC in the Canadian Premier League.
“Peak soccer season in Victoria is September to April, then I would usually come home and work games for the summer from April to August,” said Shoemaker, who remained in Victoria this summer working as a marketing intern for the provincial government’s Ministry of Environment.
He began officiating at age 12 to make a little extra money. Shoemaker took his first-ever referee course and one of the first games he officiated was a men’s 45-plus league game that he says set the tone for the rest of his officiating career.
“It was difficult but nothing was going to stop me after that,” said Shoemaker. “I went on and I love it. It does that to you.”
His goals are to receive his FIFA (international governing body of soccer) accreditation, work the Gold Cup tournament, the largest soccer event in Concacaf, and, if the opportunity arose, do games in Major League Soccer, the top North American professional league.
But the ultimate goal is to officiate the World Cup.
“With the tournament being held in North America in 2026, you never know, but it would be incredible to officiate a game,”said Shoemaker, who sings the praises of Shannon Mazereeuw, current referee-in-chief for the Vernon Soccer Association and referee development officer for the Okanagan, for helping him become a ref.
“She went to the next level for me, encouraged me to take the steps to be a ref and helped me move up,” said Shoemaker, also giving thanks to “incredible, good mentors” in Peter Solymosi and Darrell Buckham.