Four female officials will work Thursday’s Division II football game between Miles and Lane colleges, and while women have officiated college football games before, this appears to be a first: never before, according to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, has a majority-female crew officiated an NCAA game.
Yvonda Lewis, who became the first woman to officiate a Southwest Athletic Conference game in 2009, will head the crew, which also features line judge Tangela Mitchell, back judge Krystle Apellaniz, and field judge Sabrina Brunson, who became the SIAC’s first female official in 1995, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
“This is a special opportunity for not only the group of ladies selected to officiate the game, but all officials in the SIAC,” Harold Mitchell, who supervises officials for the SIAC, told the AP. “To that point, it’s also very important for everyone to understand that the selected crew are all outstanding officials, and not just females.”
Sarah Thomas became the first female official to work a major college game in 2007, when she officiated a game between Memphis and Jacksonville State. The first multi-woman crew happened three years later, when Catherine Conti and Mary Podesta worked a game between Whitworth University and Menlo College in California. Thomas also became the first woman to work a bowl game at the Little Caesar’s Bowl in 2009. She officiated at the New Orleans Saints’ training camp and in preseason games in 2013 and is on track to become the first female permanent official in NFL history as soon as 2014. Shannon Eastin became the first woman to work an NFL game when she did so in 2012 as part of a replacement crew while the NFL locked out its normal officials.
Thomas is set to become the first permanent female official because of the NFL’s Officiating Development Program, of which all four of Thursday night’s female officials are also a part. The NFL’s director of officials and director of recruiting will both be in attendance to evaluate the crew as the league continues its push to bring more female officials into the fold.
The NBA is the only men’s professional sports league to regularly feature female officials. The NBA broke that barrier all the way back in 1997, when Violet Palmer, who is still working today, and Dee Kanter became its first female officials. It handed assignments to two others — Lauren Holtkamp and Brenda Pantoja — in 2012. Women have worked at the minor league levels in both hockey and baseball, though none has ever appeared in the NHL or Major League Baseball.
That women continue to succeed in basketball and ascend the ranks in football should be a message to all of the leagues that there’s no reason women can’t do this job just as well as men — and that there is no excuse for not giving them the chance.