How An Ohio Referee Saved a Life in Orlando
If soccer does one thing well, it's bringing people together.
Somehow through the magic of this sport we all become entwined into one global yet incredibly personal experience. Last week I was on a call with Avive Solutions (a new AED I’m going to tell you all about next week) and I mentioned that I had been talking to Shawn Westerfield, a young Ohio referee who saved a life by locating an AED and bringing it to the side of a cardiac arrest victim at the US Youth Soccer National Championships this past July. Immediately, they chimed in - they already knew the story, they had colleagues there, and the experience was one they shared in.
Soccer does this - we share in wins and losses for our community with people we may have never met. All of the different decisions parents, coaches, players, and referees make on a weekly basis have an impact on the next person, and the next person, making little ripples in the pond that is our soccer journey. Sometimes the little decision to take a CPR class or to be aware of your surroundings, have an emergency action plan, or install an AED at a facility can make the ripple that sets off the chain of events that saves a life. That’s just what happened when Shawn Westerfield walked into the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility on a day in July and identified where the AED’s were, never knowing that in just a few hours he would use that information and his training to play a major part in saving a life.
A Passion for the Game
Shawn’s relationship with soccer started at a young age. At 4 or 5 Shawn was playing in foundational programs in Southwest Ohio. By age 11, he was playing with his local club Lakota FC. Over the years, he explored various local clubs and teams, never shying away from the challenges on the field.
At the age of 13, Shawn embarked on his refereeing journey. It was a path guided by his father, who also became a referee. “My dad and I both got our licenses together as he saw it as a good way for me to make money as a teenager rather than flipping burgers at McDonald's. I realized quickly how much money you could make in just one weekend at a local tournament. So I started to referee more and more.” Shawn shared that “My dad and I would work together often, and we met some people along the way who helped prepare us for higher-level games.” What began as a part-time gig quickly transformed into a full-fledged passion. Refereeing offered Shawn an avenue to make a lasting impact on the game. As a player, he realized although his passion for the sport was strong, his talents might not lead him to the professional level. However, he found another way to stay closely connected to the game he loved—through refereeing.
Rising Through the Ranks
Shawn's growth as a referee was meteoric. Despite his youth, he refused to be held back by age-related restrictions. He worked tirelessly to prove himself, and his efforts paid off. At 16, he attended the USYS Midwest Regional Championships as a representative of Ohio South. This event marked a turning point for Shawn, igniting his passion for refereeing on a grander scale. With every tournament and match, his expertise deepened and his enthusiasm continued to fuel his journey. In 2022, Shawn was recognized by the Ohio Soccer Association (OSA)* as the Young Male Referee of the Year.
*Ohio Soccer Associations is an OSMD Insider and Paid Sponsor of Ohio Soccer Moms and Dads
A Heroic Act on the Field
Amidst his refereeing journey there's a moment that stands out, not just as a testament to Shawn's character but as a lesson in the importance of preparedness.
During a National Championships match, when a spectator suffered a heart attack and collapsed onto the field, Shawn's instincts kicked in. Without hesitation, he sprinted to retrieve an AED, saving precious moments that could have meant the difference between life and death.
Here is the account in Shawn’s own words:
“It was Saturday, the second to last day of the event, and I had already referee’d my U17G semi-final game during the first time slot. After our game and debrief, we all headed to the locker room and I got dressed so I could go out to watch the other referees at their games. A few other referees and I were standing at the edge of this fenced in field when we noticed a lot of commotion coming from off the field by the spectators. Soon after, the referee was blowing his whistle frantically and spectators were running on the field yelling for the athletic trainer to come over. We all could clearly observe a man that was lying on the ground, who we assumed to be passed out. We saw people bringing tents and water bottles over, and finally saw the trainer running over. Myself and the other referees just stood where we were as we did not want to get involved to make the situation more messy and none of us were medical professionals, we were referees. But then, I heard a shout from the sideline for an AED.
I questioned what I just heard for a second and looked over about 100 yds to the nearest bathroom where, for some reason, I knew there was an AED. Nobody else was rushing to it. I immediately started to sprint for the AED and when I got to it, I had trouble getting it off. I noticed there were zip ties around it and although I was following the directions to get it off, it wouldn’t budge. So I just ripped the cover off, grabbed the AED, and started sprinting over to all the commotion. Once I got there I could clearly see the man on the ground wasn't breathing as he was completely blue. I handed the AED to the trainer and he started to work on it. I turned around and left, walking back to the referees. There were already lots of people surrounding the man and the fire department started to come in with the paramedics, so I didn't want to be in anyone's way. I was told that the AED was used and when the man left the complex he had a light pulse.”
Shawn's actions highlight a critical aspect of sports complexes: the accessibility and visibility of life-saving equipment. His experience underscores the necessity for everyone within a sports community to know where these devices are located and how to use them. It's a powerful reminder that moments of crisis can strike unexpectedly, and preparation can be the key to saving lives.
As Shawn continues his journey as a referee, he faces challenges and aspirations that extend far beyond the soccer field. He's currently pursuing a degree in Cyber Security at the University of Cincinnati, demonstrating his commitment to personal growth and a diversified skill set. But even as he studies and prepares for his future, his dedication to refereeing remains unwavering.
“The best way to grow is experience,” shared Shawn. “So I try to never turn down a new opportunity where I may encounter something different and have an opportunity to learn.”
Shawn's story is a testament to the power of passion, the rewards of hard work, and the unexpected moments that define us. From a young player to a seasoned referee, he has shown that success isn't limited by age or circumstance. As he looks toward his dreams of becoming a professional referee in Major League Soccer, we can all draw inspiration from his journey and remember the importance of being prepared, both on and off the field.