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Women cross official line

The next time Dennis Rodman smashes an opponent or Charles Barkley spews venom, the person whistling a technical foul could be Violet Palmer or Dee Kantner.

The two were added to the NBA's referee staff Tuesday, marking the first time in major U.S. pro sports women will officiate regular-season games in an all-male league.

Kantner and Palmer, who have worked preseason games the past three weeks, were among five referees added to the league's 58-member officiating staff. Seven refs didn't make the cut.

"They've gotten better each time out," said Rod Thorn, NBA vice president of operations. "Just like the other referees, they've come back from the summer, had training camp and preseason, and have gotten used to being out there."

The NBA told the women not to talk about the appointments until a conference call tonight.

Kantner, 36, was the supervisor of officials in the WNBA. She also has refereed four women's NCAA championship games.

Palmer, 33, was an official in the WNBA and has officiated college women's games.

"We had them in one exhibition game, and I don't see any difference in the female and male referees," said Donnie Walsh, Indiana Pacers general manager. "I think it's going to be fine. The two ladies they have are very well qualified."

In keeping with league policy, the NBA would not say if they would be working when the season opens Friday.

Major League Baseball considered hiring a female umpire but passed on Pam Postema, who worked minor-league games from 1977-88. Postema subsequently filed a sexual discrimination suit against the major leagues. It was settled out of court in April.

Kantner and Palmer each worked four games this preseason. Each officiated two preseason games last year but did not make the final cut for the regular season.

The hirings had been expected since the league sent teams a summer memo ordering them to set aside a spare room for female officials.

"We're ready for them, but are they ready for us?" Rodman said last season. "They've got to be ready to run with us on the court, get touched and even get a pat on the (backside) every now and then."

NBA players are prohibited from bumping referees, but there is no blanket rule against touching.

Thorn said Kantner and Palmer will not be discouraged from trying to break up fights.

Kantner and Palmer will be among the referees replacing Mike Mathis, Jess Kersey, George Toliver and Henry Armstrong, who were indicted on tax evasion charges.

Toliver and Kersey resigned after pleading guilty. Armstrong and Mathis were suspended with pay while they await trials.

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