In 2004, Shamario Young became a Huntsville recreation league football referee as an 18-year-old freshman at Alabama A&M University so he could earn a little bit of gas money.
Fast forward to December 2022. Young, who works as a systems engineering manager with a focus on missile defense for Northrup Gruman in the Rocket City, will take the field as a high school official at this year’s Super 7 Alabama High School Athletic Association Championships at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.
“I’ve been blowing my whistle for half my life!” Young told Bham Now with a smile.
Now he gets to do it on Alabama high school football’s biggest stage.
Read on to learn how high school football officials from all walks of life become referees and why it matters.
A native of Marengo County, Young played for the Marengo High School marching band from middle school to his junior year. As a senior, he joined the football team. However, he broke his leg during his third game, prematurely ending his football career as a player.
“It [refereeing] suddenly became a passion for me. It was something I couldn’t stop doing, because I enjoyed it so much,” he said.
By 2011, he began his career as a high school official.
In the meantime, Young earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Alabama A&M and then a Masters in Industrial Technology, soon landing a job at Northrup Gruman.
Working in the area of missile defense, he regularly travels across the country to Alaska, Colorado, and New York.
Chosen As a Super 7 Ref
After officiating on Friday Nights for more than a decade, Young was notified he had been chosen to referee one of the AHSAA Super 7 Championship games.
“Being named a Super 7 ref is one of my greatest moments. Every official wants to make the Super 7, but there’s only room for just a few. I’m very, very happy and blessed to be called upon to do the game.”
Playoff and Championship Games Are Special
There is nothing quite like officiating high school playoffs and championships according to Young.
“Playoff football is one of the most intense environments you will ever come across.” he told Bham Now.
“For a lot of guys, it’s their last football game ever, and they leave it all on the field that night. They’re going to play hard, and you want to referee well.”
Young is anxiously awaiting his Super 7 championship assignment which won’t be delivered until all the finals are set. One thing he does know — the game will mean a great deal to him too. A reward for a job well done.
Becoming a Football Fan and Then a Referee
One thing remains true about becoming a contest official, whether it’s football or any other sport. Iif you love the game, you can do it too.
Just ask Jordan Towns, a football official in Auburn who has been selected to officiate the annual Alabama-Mississippi All Star Football Classic, which returns to Mobile in December.
A native of Irondale, she attended the Alabama School of Fine Arts—a high school which does not field a football team or any competitive sports. And that was okay, because Towns didn’t enjoy sports like football.
“My dad is an Auburn grad,” said Towns. “He tried to get me to go to football games when I was a child. I could not have been less interested in football. They would have to drop me off at my grandparents and then go to the football game because I really did not enjoy football games.”
Her feelings toward the game changed when she went to her first Auburn game in 2004.
“If you know anything about Auburn football, 2004 was the year Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown and Jason Campbell had the undefeated season. I went to my first football game in the student section and I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Veterinary School, International Pentathlon Athlete, PhD Candidate
Presently working on her residency in clinical pathology and a PhD in biomedical sciences, Towns is also the eighth best Pentathlon athlete in the nation, an Olympic sport that incorporates running, swimming, shooting, horseback riding and fencing.
And along with that busy schedule — she loves football, especially officiating.
She tells the story that back In 2017, while watching football games with friends she kept describing all the penalties and rules — so much so, they encouraged her to become a ref.
“I laughed about it because, I honestly didn’t even know if women could be football referees. Then I wondered if I could referee high school football.” she said.
A Google search later, she connected with the local Auburn officials association. Then after learning the craft from operating the clock to working youth football games, she became a high school official.
And she was not alone. Towns credits multiple people for supporting her: the local referee group, the Big East Football Officials Association, and countless mentors, including Anthony Jeffries, a longtime Alabama ref who now officiates games in the NFL.
For Towns there is one other intangible reason she loves being a football referee — the challenge.
“I love officiating football because it is an intellectual challenge. I really want to challenge myself — get out of my comfort zone. I will say 100% that as many things as I have done, the pentathlon, a PhD, vet school, board exams, competing internationally in a physically-demanding sport, it all pales in comparison to learning how to ref.
Being a football official is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I love it.”
Become a High School Official
Both Young and Towns encourage people of all ages to become a high school official, but it can also be a career choice.
“My advice: start young. You are going to learn a lot in the first three to four years,” said Young. “You will have the best seat in the house to watch the game you grew up playing and love.”
Interested in becoming a high school official for football and all the other sports under the AHSAA umbrella? Contact Ken Washington, AHSAA Director of Officials directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . He will walk you through the process.
Sign up today to become a ref — it is a decision you will not regret.