OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It was a proud moment. For the first time in NSAA history, an all-Black officiating crew worked together for a playoff semifinal football game.
"It was an exciting moment, groundbreaking — being the first. I would almost say it was our Jackie Robinson moment," said Sylvester Thomas, Head Linesman, Metro Football Officials Association (MFOA).
"Growing up where I came from, we didn't see a lot of people that looked like us on the field," said Ty Starks, Line Judge, MFOA.
White Hat Referee Darryl Moore added, "I was super proud when I got the call, to be a white hat of this crew. I felt privileged and honored."
"The moment I put on these stripes, it was always the, 'What if, what does it look like, what it could be?' To be a part of what is now is an amazing accomplishment,'" added Fred Whitted, Back Judge, MFOA.
Vernon Breakfield, Supervisor of Officials, says it was a day that was two years in the making.
"I was more proud of them than they were," he said. "They have done a bang-up job the first night and a bang-up job ever since."
As they are all former athletes, being on the field is great, but they say it is an opportunity that has meaning for students as well.
"We needed it. We needed our students to see there were officials that look like them on the field and they would get a fair shake," continued Breakfield.
Umpire Skyler Johnson added, "Football, baseball — this should be in all sports. Representation matters."
Being officials, they say they learned things that they wish they would have known while they were players and coaches.
"If I could tell anybody anything, get into officiating, get into the rule book. Some of these players, can you imagine the knowledge base they would have if they knew the exact rules we were using to officiate?" said Whitted.
"At the end of the day we just want to be good officials that happen to be African American — officials," added Thomas.
Between the group, they have more than 50 years of officiating experience between them.
Whitted says that he would like to start an officiating clinic to teach kids the rules of the game to help them on the field.