BROWNSVILLE, Texas (KVEO) – Five Texas women made history over the weekend as the first all-female officiating crew of at least five members to take on a high school level varsity football game.
For one of these women, officiating hasn’t always been under the stadium lights; her journey as a referee for Texas’ most popular sport started on a flat track with eight wheels strapped to her feet.
Jenifer Calhoun, 36, is one of the five women referee crew who was running up and down the Wichita Falls Memorial Stadium during the Texas High School Sixman Coach’s Association Division All-Star Game on July 17.
Her involvement, alongside Crystal Cooksey, Rachel Stepien, Amy Smith, and Valerie McIntosh was a first in the U.S. Before Saturday, the sport had never had five female referees officiate a high school varsity football game.
In a state where football is treated as a religion, Calhoun is honored to have been a part of history.
“They don’t make movies about stadiums in other states. It’s all about Texas high school football so to essentially be able to make a slight mark in the history of that, it’s mind-blowing, still,” said Calhoun.
Calhoun is going into her third season as a football official, but her first moves on the field were geared with a tuba during her marching band days.
But it was her singing the national anthem at roller derby games that started the journey towards earning her zebra stripes.
Roller derby is a full-contact sport played on quad roller skates. Though many remember the television spectacle of the 1950s, the contemporary version of the sport was revived in Austin, Texas in the early 2000s. Referees skate along the outside and inside of a flat oblong track looking for illegal contact and moves amongst the players.
“I got serious about officiating about five years ago with the Texas Rollergirls in Austin, Texas,” said Calhoun. “I was doing tournaments and all kinds of things and one of the Fort Worth officials, who’s a skating official up there, says, ‘hey have you thought about football?’”
Because roller derby is still in its early years and the fandom consists of fellow skaters and friends, Calhoun says officiating a stadium football game requires another level of focus.
“[Roller derby] is not nearly as detail-oriented as football is simply because of the time that they’ve had to develop the game,” said Calhoun. “I feel like when derby comes back, it’s going to kind of turn me into a different official.”
Due to the pandemic, the Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association, the governing body for an estimated 2,000 leagues around the world, has gradually updated their return to play guidelines but has not resumed competition.
While Calhoun has been savoring the win towards inclusiveness, the comments left online about the women showed that there is still work that needs to be done.
Calhoun called on her football and roller derby family to show support, as to not discourage women in the future from officiating.
“I think one important thing that young women need to remember is… be inspired by what you see on the screen and don’t be deterred by people you see in the comment section because they’re not always the most supportive.”
Calhoun is a resident of Little River Academy, Texas, and will officiate at the WNFC National Championship next month.