Blazing New Trails with Referee Toni Morgan

By Carla Peay
Updated: October 23, 2005

Referee Toni Morgan explains her decision to Coach Marvin Drummond. Photo by John E. DeFreitas

Referee Toni Morgan explains her decision to Coach Marvin Drummond. Photo by John E. DeFreitas

WASHINTON, D.C.—Seven year old Phillip Morgan Jr. loves to attend football games. Not to watch his father, or even an older brother. He’s watching his mother, Toni Morgan, a high school and college football referee, one of the only women in the D.C. area to be a member of a football officiating crew and the first woman to blaze that uncharted trail. Morgan was both pleased and surprised when the opportunity came her way.

“I played in a touch football league, and the organization that was refereeing the games kept trying to get me to officiate. My husband was in the league and said to me ‘yes, you can do it’. So once I finished playing in the Capital Hill touch league, I decided I would try it. I did that four three or four years for the Metropolitan Football Association. Then I was asked to join EBO, The Eastern Board of Officials.”

Morgan was all set to take her career as an official to the next level, but took a three year detour to become a mother. Once her son reached his third birthday, Morgan made her return to the sidelines.

“I started out by running the clock and working the chain crew that first year. Then my second year they moved me from junior varsity to varsity. Then in my third year, the commissioner and the president just approached me about becoming the first woman to actually referee a game. My first game was Ballou and Coolidge. It was on a Friday night, and it was the first game of the season. My first game, I was very nervous. The opening play was a kickoff return for a touchdown, so I had to run a hundred yards down the field. But by the time I ran down the field, I forgot about being nervous, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Morgan has been a lifelong athlete and sports fan, participating in touch football leagues, women’s fast pitch softball leagues and co-ed slow pitch softball leagues. Combining her duties as a wife and mother, a full time government employee and a referee could be a daunting task. But Morgan is enjoying every minute of it. How does she feel about her part time job?

“I love it. I do high school varsity football and I’ve done a semi-pro game. I believe I’m the first African American woman to referee a football game for a national federation. I run the clock for games in the MEAC Conference and also at Morgan State.”

As more and more women begin to forge successful careers in the sports world, Toni Morgan feels both lucky and proud to find herself on the sidelines at a football game, knowing that doing her job and doing it well is the most important element to earning respect as a referee.

“Most of the coaches I know are comfortable with me. There is only one school I know of that doesn’t like me, has made some derogatory remarks about having a woman on the officiating crew, but other that, if you talk to the other coaches, they’ll say ‘she knows the game and she knows what she’s doing’”.

Both Phillip Morgan Sr. and Jr. support Toni in her pursuits, and come to watch her games whenever possible.

“If my husband, who coaches as Anacostia High school, doesn’t have a game one week, he’ll bring our son to watch one of my games. If I’m doing a junior high school or middle school game, I’ll bring him with me myself. By now, he thinks he’s ready to play football himself. It will be hard to watch him. I’ll be part parent, and part referee.”