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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Woman earns varsity football referee’s stripes

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the fifth/sixth-grade football teams from All Saints and Assumption schools faced each other at Gonzaga Prep. Observers may have noticed something different about one of the three officials on the field.

As the only woman in the Inland Empire Football Officials Association, Mary Harvill is used to double takes from coaches, kids and parents.

Harvill, 53, a widowed mother of a grown daughter, takes it all in stride. By day she’s a medical records release information specialist, but on evenings and weekends, she dons the zebra-striped uniform and takes to the field.

“I heard a radio interview this summer with a guy from the WOA (Washington Officials Association) saying they needed more officials,” she said. “And I thought, Wow! I could do that!”

Though she’s never played on a football team, Harvill said her late husband’s family was into the NFL in a big way. “Grandma always beat everyone at fantasy football.”

She attended many high school football games at Gonzaga Prep with her daughter. “I fell in love with it,” she said.

While she’s currently the only female official in the association, she isn’t the first. Chuck Latimer, assigner for the IEFOA, said several women have taken the training and served as officials.

“She’s got a lot of what we look for in an official,” he said. “She’s got self-confidence and a thick enough skin.”

Anyone who’s ever watched a sporting event knows thick skin is a must for a referee. “Speaking from experience, when you put on an official’s uniform, you become a target for criticism,” Latimer said.

However, Harvill said she hasn’t felt singled out for any harsher criticism because of her sex. She shrugged. “I’ve already dealt with coaches’ challenges of my calls.”

Randy Searcy, training director for the IEFOA, calls it the 50/50 rule. “Fifty percent of the people will be happy with your call and 50 percent aren’t going to like it.”

He said anyone can become a football official, and though having played the sport is helpful, it certainly isn’t required. Applicants undergo a background check, pay a small fee and take an online concussion clinic.

To be a certified official like Harvill, classroom training, time on the field and an online exam are necessary. Officials are paid a small fee per game and receive a gas allowance for travel costs.

First-year officials generally start at the younger level games and move on to middle school and high school games as they gain experience.

Learning the rules and mechanics for a sport you’ve never played can be daunting, but Harvill enjoys the challenge. “There’s a lot to know,” she said.

However, so far the most difficult part of being a female official was finding referee shoes small enough to fit her.

The 100 area officials cover a lot of games. “Of the approximately 850 football games that we will do for our area, only 170 will be varsity football games. Just over 300 will be nonschool youth games,” Latimer said.

That’s why the association is always looking for more officials.

Harvill said the people at IEFOA have been very supportive. “It does seem like 99 guys and me, but they have been so welcoming and amazing.”

Searcy has been pleased with her progress. “She’s done a great job,” he said.

Harvill said officiating is great exercise and for the most part, a lot of fun. “They pay me to do this! Can you believe it?” she asked, laughing.

And she relishes her role. “I like the challenge of being a trailblazer – of doing something that’s uncommon.”

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