NYCHA Residents Make the Right Call with NFL Officiating Academy
Now in its third year of operation, the unique collaboration between NYCHA and the National Football League (NFL) to train NYCHA residents for potential jobs as game officials in various levels of football has become an undeniable success. On Aug. 29, 2012, the New York City Housing Authority and the NFL graduated a class of 69 men and women from the NFL Officiating Academy. At the closing ceremony, participants which include NYCHA residents, accepted certificates and official referee uniforms, while listening to the program leaders and their instructors shower them with praise. NYCHA Chairman John B. Rhea attended the ceremony to congratulate the participants for taking part in such a dynamic program.
NYCHA Chairman John Rhea congratulates NFL Officiating Academy graduate at Aug. 29 ceremony. (Photo by Pete Mikoleski/NYCHA)
Explaining why the program began in the first place, Chairman Rhea stressed the importance of both the concrete and intangible benefits.
“What we wanted to do with this program in NYCHA was to bring together two organizations that are committed to investing in people, putting them on the road to opportunity, giving them a kind of skills and mentorship, and the guidance, and the support they need to be successful,” said Chairman Rhea.
Watch NYCHA Chairman John Rhea Speak at NFL Officiating Academy Graduation:
The OfficiatingAcademy ran for eight weeks during the summer and was open to not only co-ed young adults, but also to one older and eager participant.
“It took me a year and a half to get into the class,” said Belforte Diggs, 59, of NYCHA’s Campos Plaza. “I now want to educate and give out what I know to the players. I feel like we’re all ambassadors for the NFL and officiating.”
“We want to broaden the pool of officials nationwide and improve the overall image of officiating,” said Vanessa Streater, the Officiating Academy’s Program Coordinator.
“Clinics and programs like this are key to making that happen,” Streater continued.
Some graduates – like many football fans - did not always consider NFL officials to be fair when making some of their calls. “I thought all referees were paid to cheat for teams because I didn’t really agree with all the calls they made when I watched on TV,” said Erin Jones, a female participant from NYCHA’sSutter Avenue-Union Street development in Brooklyn. ”But as I took the class, I understood that you have to be really humble, know what you’re saying, and be a team player, because the refs are like another team on the field,” Jones said.
The Officiating Academy even taught important lessons to participants already experienced in football.
Troy Duncan, a resident of NYCHA’s Ocean Hill Apartments in Brooklyn, and a semi-pro football player, thought he knew it all when it comes to football. However, he was surprised by how much he was able to learn about the sport he loves while participating in the Officiating Academy. Some of his instructors in the Academy also officiate his semi-pro games. What he has learned from the Academy will enhance his play on the field and his appreciation for the role of game officials. Duncan expressed sympathy for all of the officials he maligned in the past. “I feel for them now. I always used to grill the refs, but now I don’t want players doing that to me, so now I tell my teammates to stop.”
In addition to the life lessons and career opportunities offered through the NYCHA-NFL Officiating Academy, graduates stay in touch with each other and with the NFL. Still, for one participant, the program could be made more realistic in a major way….
“The one thing we don’t get out of this - is a trip to Disneyland,” said Mr. Diggs.
With enough practice, some of the participants could advance in their careers to one day referee the Super Bowl winning team, which actually does make it to the happiest place on Earth.