Don was an outstanding rugby referee at every level of play. However, the first few years of his refereeing career were developmental, not high performance. During this developmental time he relied exclusively on feedback from players and coaches.
“I got involved in refereeing as a way to stay fit. I had ruined my knees in another sport (black belt in judo) and had my first knee surgery in 1966. I got to know some of the guys on the MIT Rugby Club while I was running around their pitch to get my legs back into shape after the knee surgery. When I joined the club in 1967 I immediately took up the whistle. With my bad knees I didn’t care to play the game and have my body carried off the pitch, nor did the team want this (back then they would not have been allowed a substitute).
“When I joined the MIT Rugby Club I didn’t know a scrum from a lineout. I began by refereeing practice scrimmages. Then I graduated to the pick up game that ended the day for those who hadn’t played earlier in the day and for those who filled in by playing one more time.
“My fondest memory of refereeing is the camaraderie experienced before and after the game. During the game it was a different story! To be fair, I stunk as a referee for many years. As an example, I can recall at least two games that I had to abandon simply because I was not up to the task of refereeing serious rugby.
“I am living proof that you haven’t arrived as a referee until you have refereed a game in which each and every club will claim you (as the referee) cost them the victory. Naturally, through time, this game will become the most significant loss in their club’s history.
“In the late 60s and early 70s there were no assessors, referee coaches or opportunities for peers to watch my games. I relied completely on feedback from players and coaches. In view of my successful progression to International Referee, my reliance on player feedback established an appreciation of the game that worked out well for me.”
Don was an International Referee from 1981 until 1990. It is believed, but not with 100% confidence, that he is the only International Referee who has never played a game, not even a practice session.
While Don was an International Referee he refereed numerous national club championship matches, national collegiate championship matches, regional select side matches (e.g., Canadian Provincial Championships matches and USA Interterritorial matches), international select side matches (e.g., Canada East versus Italy and USA West versus Japan) and international test matches. Perhaps the most notable test match he refereed was the politically controversial game between USA and South Africa in 1981. He was also the first American referee to represent USA Rugby on appointment to the national rugby unions of England (1982), New Zealand (1983) and Wales (1987).
Throughout his career Don has always been involved in the administrative aspects of rugby refereeing. In 1967 he was one of the co-founders of the New England Rugby Referees Society (nee the Boston Rugby Referees Society). From 1967 to 1981 Don assumed, at one time or another, every administrative role of the New England Rugby Referees Society.
Don retired from being an International referee in 1990 and immediately began serving USA Rugby in various administrative roles. He was Chairman of the Referee & Laws Committee from 1990 to 1998, and concurrently he was Chairman of the Evaluation Committee from 1990 to 2002. During this time Don led the effort to make the Referee & Laws Committee a revenue generating operation to assist in the funding of referee travel. He developed and implemented certification courses for referees and for evaluators. These courses predated the current courses offered by World Rugby (nee the International Rugby Board). The World Rugby courses and the USA Rugby Referee & Laws Committee courses stole the same good ideas from all over the world, which meant the two sets of courses were very similar. USA Rugby adopted the World Rugby courses once they became available in order to be aligned with World Rugby.
Don was a certified Match Official Performance Reviewer for the International Rugby Board (IRB) from 2002 until 2005. During that time the IRB assigned him to assess referees of international test matches. Some of the test matches that he assessed for the IRB included the following:
- Canada v. Uruguay (2001),
- Argentina v. Uruguay (2001),
- Canada v. Scotland (2002),
- USA v. Spain (2003) and
- USA v. Japan (2003)
Don also assessed other international matches for the IRB, such as the Churchill Cup matches in 2004 to 2005.
In 2005 Don was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable but treatable blood cancer. After his diagnosis of having multiple myeloma he gradually discontinued some of his administrative activities, including the IRB certified roles of Match Official Performance Reviewer and Referee Trainer/Educator. He also discontinued writing articles for Referees Corner in Rugby Magazine. Over the course of 15 years he had written a total of 145 articles. He is still a member of the USA National Panel of Performance Reviewers, a position he has held from 1990 until now (2015), and he is also very active as a referee evaluator for the New England Rugby Referees Society.
Throughout his career Don has been honored with numerous awards, including a very memorable banquet arranged in his honor by the New England Rugby Referees Society. The three awards that are the most significant to him are the following:
- Denis Shanagher Award (2000) – This award is given by the Referees & Laws Committee of USA Rugby to those individuals who have achieved exceptionally significant results for USA Rugby refereeing. The award was established in 1991 and only 10 individuals have received the award since that time.
- Morrison Referee Developmental Fund (2012) – In 2012 USA Rugby established a trust fund in Don’s name to develop young referees who show promise to become elite referees. Each year two referees are sent overseas for several months to undergo extensive education and training as rugby referees. The fund is now called the Shanagher Morrison Referee Developmental Fund.
- Hall of Fame (2015) – The U. S. Rugby Hall of Fame is a private, nonprofit institution created in 2011 and operated by the U. S. Rugby Football Foundation. Don has been honored to be one of the inductees this year (2015).
Don received both his B.S degree (1966) and his PhD degree (1970) from MIT. His education served him well throughout his professional career. He was a senior manager for three large companies: Polaroid (1970s), Kendall/Colgate Palmolive (1980s) and International Paper (1990s). He was particularly successful in heading up the manufacturing and research operations for a global venture start up in the 1980s. He retired at the ripe old age of 54 in 1998 and never looked back.
There is not a grain of doubt that the most significant event in Don’s life is his marriage to Trudy on June 7, 1966. Trudy and Don are looking forward to a festive golden wedding anniversary celebration next year (2016).