In wet, rainy weather on a high school football Friday at Cass Technical School, the story was not the Technicians’ 40-0 win over Mumford, it was Bettina Little becoming the first female to referee a Detroit Public School League (PSL) football game.
Football is as American as apple pie and its final event is the biggest single yearly occurrence in the United States – the Super Bowl.
Women have long since got on the football bandwagon and are actively involved in the sport and its tailgating ritual. However, when it comes to women coaches or referees, it is nearly non-existent.
“I did not know earlier in the week when I got the assignment that I was in reality the first female to referee a PSL game,” Little told me. “But as game day got closer all the guys kept telling me that I was the first.
“To tell you the truth, I’m shocked that no one else has done it. I was just trying to work and get my hustle on. But during and after the game people started calling me and letting me know that this was indeed a special day for me and the PSL.”
I asked Little why she thinks there have not been more female referees.
“I’ve thought about it,” she said, “and the only thing I can come up with is the weather or it’s a physical thing concerning the contact referees are exposed, too. Really, I know so many females that love football and they know the game. I think what is wrong is it is a breakthrough thing. Women only see men doing it and it appears to be a man thing. When women see more women out there, it may change the perceptions of what is possible.”
She has always loved sports. She played softball and basketball at Henry Ford High and was Most Valuable Player and voted one of the top scholar athletes at the school.
Her real love is basketball and she still plays the game to stay in shape.
“I’ve been refereeing basketball for a few years now,” Little noted. “I have not done PSL varsity basketball, but I’ve done varsity in the Downriver and charter schools.”
She went to Mike Wynn’s Football Referee Camp just to stay busy and try something new.
“Mose Smith, who I consider to be a mentor, made sure I get the info about the football camp and pushed me to try to learn the rules,” she said. “He and Wynn have really helped me with the training and in showing confidence in me.
“There were only two females who attended the football camp, Lisa Favors and I. We tried to help each other out. One of our long-term goal is to get an all female crew one day.”
She continued, “Whatever I do, I try to do it to my fullest. I worked until I got it down pat. The main thing is you cannot be scared; you have to have confidence in what you are doing and what you are about.”
Little modeled herself after former Pistons’ star Isiah Thomas. She liked his tenacity, feistiness and style. And in keeping in the mode of Thomas, Little noted that since she is now in the game, she might as well shoot for the moon.
“I want to get better at all the referee positions, and one day I want to wear that white hat.” (The umpire is the lead referee).”
It helps that Little has played professional football before. She played one season with the Detroit Demolition as a cornerback.
Little, who is the president of her block club and volunteers for many community events, has the support of her parents, but her 5-year-old son, Peace, is a special supporter.
“When I put the referee gear on he knows Mom is going to work a game,” she said. “He’s my biggest supporter.”
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.