|Veteran GNAC line judge Mary Podesta is one of the few females working at the NCAA level.|
This initiative is part of a comprehensive strategy by the NCAA DII Conference Commissioners Association to 1) bring attention to the crisis-level shortage of officials affecting amateur sports and 2) promote the benefits and rewards of officiating by implementing a national recruitment effort within the division.
For more information on how to become an official, we encourage you to visit the following links or reach out to your local officiating organization:
Now, on to our Q&A with GNAC football official Mary Podesta, one of the few females working at the NCAA level.
Name: Mary Podesta
Role: GNAC football official
Years as an official: 15-plus
Hometown: San Mateo, Calif.
Describe your competitive background in the sport of football.
I played flag football on a women’s team in San Francisco. Other than that, I have no background in football.
What was it that attracted you to the officiating world?
I needed a change. I was coaching and serving as an athletic director at a high school for over 20 years and was looking for a new way to be involved with sports.
What were the initial steps you took to pursue a career as an official?
I was up checking on a JV football game at the high school that I worked at and noticed that there was a female official working the game (Terri Valenti). I was put in touch with her and she encouraged me to give it a try. I said I would give it a year and if I didn't like it I would move on. I loved it. And so here I am many years later, still at it.
As one of the few female officials working college football, what were some of the hurdles you had to overcome in launching your career and progressing through the collegiate ranks?
The biggest hurdle was getting past the negative/inappropriate comments from the male officials. There were not a lot of comments but the ones I did hear were hurtful. I just focus on all the positives I have in my life. I love what I do. I'm good at it and I'm not going to let the negative stuff bring me down.
What do you remember about your first “real” assignment as a football official?
In my first year officiating I was given a varsity game. I was called out of the blue and asked if I could work that night (I always kept my uniform in my car just in case). I was super nervous. I had not worked a five-person crew yet so I studied the mechanics at lunch that day and after school (I'm a teacher). We had a double forward pass in the game (it was legal back then, so yes I'm old....grr). I had no flag and the other officials looked at me and I was able to tell them that it was fine -- no foul. Because I knew the rule and could explain that the player had done it correctly gave my crew confidence that I belonged out there. From then on I had the trust of my crew. I guess in a way I proved that I belonged out there. My love for officiating only grew from there.
What was it that prompted you to move into the intercollegiate ranks?
I was working high school with a group of college officials and they encouraged me to apply for the next level. By my third year officiating I was working junior college ball and by my fifth year [former GNAC supervisor of officials] Mike Burton had hired me to work DII and DIII football. I feel very blessed to have worked for Mike -- he is an awesome person.
As an official in any sport needs to become a rules "expert,” what approach did you take to learning the rule book inside and out?
I don't think I have yet. You always have your head in the book. I love to watch game film. I love to sit and just talk football and go over plays that might have happened or will happen. I'm a person that needs to see a foul, not read about it. I'm still learning every day. In every way we never stop learning.
What are some of the things you do throughout the year to stay up to date on the sport from an officiating perspective?
Read … read about proposed new rules. Read about things that may have occurred during the season and learn how other crews handled the situation. Talk and meet with other officials and go over rules, rules you know really well and those that you struggle with. Also, watch game film of not only your games but other games, and watch how other officials move on the field.
Can you outline a typical officiating year for yourself?
A typical year for me starts in February. I give myself time to relax away from the sport, mentally and physically. Come February I start thinking about my spring games and my goals for the upcoming season. Once I get my schedule I contact the person in charge of my flights and I get those booked. I put together a schedule of my "off-season” meetings/conference calls. I head to Portland, Oregon in July to take my recertification exam and then it’s time to hit the field for preseason scrimmages and games. Each Monday before a game I receive an email from my referee and he sends out an outline of topics for us to discuss as a crew. I spend the week getting ready for the game by looking at film of the teams and preparing my pregame presentation. All of my games are away games so come Friday I fly out of town, work my game Saturday and fly back home Sunday. I spend Sunday morning reviewing the foul report and making sure I have entered my fouls correctly. Monday I do my evaluation of the officials that I worked with (they evaluate me as well). It’s pretty much the same thing every week until the end of the season.
What have you found to be the biggest challenges as a college official?
The lack of trust from some officials and coaches because I'm a woman and have never played football. I have to work harder than a man does. I played DI volleyball. I know what it means to go out on a court and not have an official prepared. I want college coaches to know I have had to work harder. I am ready. I trust you to do your best coaching so please trust me to do my best out there as your official.
Describe an aspect of college officiating that the average person or fan doesn’t realize.
I think what most people don't understand is the time we put in to being the best that we can be. We put a lot of time into being a college official. We study the rules. We work out. We give up time with our families to do something we take pride in. People think we make a call because we want a certain team to win. That always makes me laugh. We don't care who wins. We are striving for a perfect game. We don't want to make mistakes and we strive to make sure we don't.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in officiating?
Give it a try. It’s the hardest thing you will ever love doing. Get in touch with your local football officiating group. They will welcome you and give you the tools you need to succeed.