All-Black female Mississippi football officials make history

The high school matchup will feature the first all-Black female crew to officiate high school football in the state, and possibly nationwide. 

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When Murrah opens the Mississippi high school football season Friday against Cleveland Central at South Jackson Field, the matchup will feature the first all-female crew to officiate high school football in the state. 

And it will be an all-Black female crew, which, The Clarion Ledger reported, may be a nationwide first.

“From everything that we’ve been able to gather from the National Federation of State High School Associations, we feel like that is the first time that there’s been an all-female Black officiating crew in a high school football game,” MHSAA assistant director Greg Freeman said. “I think it goes to show that we don’t discriminate against anyone. We want anyone that wants to come out and be a part of the game and be an official. We want them to come out and work hard.”

“It’s amazing and it’s overwhelming at the same time,” said Adrienne Barnes, part of the crew, who is entering her 19th year officiating youth and high school sports in Mississippi. “This is our first time working all together on the field. We’ve known each other. We’ve worked together in other sports but never on the field. Typically they never have more than one female on the field.”

Female American football referee giving signals to professional players during match on the stadium field. (Adobe Stock)

Women from across the state make up the crew that will officiate at the Murrah-Cleveland Central matchup, part of the first week of Mississippi High School Athletic Association play. The women have worked several preseason scrimmages ahead of Friday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

MHSAA officials assigner Curtis Lowe said each official will return to her respective crew the following week.

Barnes said a challenge from her son led her to get involved in officiating.

“He was 6 or 7 years old and I was fussing at an umpire on the field,” she said. “He said ‘They have a really hard job. I bet you won’t do it.’”

Barnes said she started to focus on forming an all-female crew last fall. Similar crews work in Oregon and Texas. 

The MHSAA has nearly 50 women refereeing high school football games, Freeman said. 

“They all work on Friday nights,” Lowe said. “Just don’t work together and I decided to get them the opportunity. Seven women together.”

Barnes has worked with former MHSAA official and current NFL referee Sarah Thomas, who became the first woman to officiate in the Super Bowl in 2021.

Barnes hopes that Friday’s game will help open more doors for women in officiating.

“I hope that more women get invited to the bigger show. I hope that more minority women get opportunities because you don’t see a lot of us, even in women’s sports at the higher levels. That’s disappointing and it’s kind of lonely, not to have someone there who truly understands where you are,” she said.

Barnes will be joined on the field by Sarah Fleming, Sherri Vaughans, Fran Adams, Felicia Davis, Alona Alexander and Dominique Sutton along with clock operators Phylicia Cotten and Constance Clark and chain crew Tamika Lipsey, Timika Morris and Charmaine Smith.

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