A new school year is upon us, and a lot of us are thinking about the start of high school and college athletics. If you ever dreamed of being part of the game, you’re going to want to meet Maili Williamson. UNC Greensboro’s competitive sports coordinator for Recreation & Wellness recently became the first female to officiate for the National Arena League this summer and will be continuing her officiating career this fall on the NCAA football field.
This 2017 UNCG graduate found herself following in the footsteps of her hero NFL official Maia Chaka after falling in love with sports at a very young age.
“I started falling in love with sports when I was about 5 years old,” said Williamson. “My father, who is also an athlete from the Guilford County area, played professional basketball overseas and after retiring from the sport he came home to raise a child that he thought was going to be a little boy. Instead of a boy, who may or may not like sports, he got me who prefers playing sports and being outside over anything else.”
While Williamson’s first athletic love was basketball, it would not be long before she would find herself falling in love with the most popular sport in the United States – football.
“Although I kept playing basketball all the way through high school and was offered partial scholarships to a few Division III private schools, I knew that I wanted something different for my professional career,” said Williamson. “Instead, I decided to go to UNC Greensboro and attempted to be a walk-on player for the women’s basketball team, that is until I decided to focus on my education and doing everything that I could to obtain my degree in three years versus four. This focus eventually led me to a course in kinesiology, which led to a minor in coaching that actually tied in with the philosophy of officiating.”
During her pursuit for a sports-related education at UNCG, Williamson thought she would pursue a career as an athletic trainer, until one email unveiled a pathway that would chart the course of her entire future. “Regardless of my pursuit to obtain a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, I knew that I still wanted to play or be involved in sports somehow. “It is funny because I think that I just received some random email during my freshman year that invited me to an intramural basketball official training session that I attended. I never knew that walking into referee training in the fall of 2013 would lead to a life-long passion for sports officiating,” said Williamson.
Following this training Williamson would spend every free moment outside of her college classes refereeing high school football, basketball, and volleyball games. Although Williamson enjoyed being a part of each of these sports, it didn’t take long before she began to focus on the one that presented the biggest challenge.
“I have always loved football. I grew up around a lot of boy cousins and they would always play outside with a ball and my dad always had it on TV growing up. Football has just clicked with me and my biggest motivator for me to pursue a potential career as a football official has everything to do with knowing that there are not a lot of women in this sport,” said Williamson. “This just made me want to go out there and break the barriers and stereotypes that say that women can’t be a larger part of the sport of football. In fact, I can’t stand when a coach on the sideline calls me out saying something like ‘she doesn’t know what she is talking about’ I get really upset because no one should be told that they don’t know how or can’t do something based on their gender.”
Today, Williamson uses her education in both the classroom as well as on the field to serve on the staff of UNCG’s Recreation & Wellness Department, while also breaking barriers on the football field as one of the few female officials. In fact, Maili Williamson earned her first claim to official fame this summer after becoming the first female official to perform duties in a National Arena League (NAL) football game.
This fall, we will have the chance to cheer her on as she begins officiating NCAA college football, and we can’t wait to see her alongside other female officials in the NFL someday. “Throughout my time as an undergrad at UNCG, I was motivated, supported, and empowered to become a great sports official. Along the way, I have discovered that officiating is more than blowing the whistle and making a call. Officiating is a humbling experience that teaches sportsmanship, communication, and perseverance and I could not have learned this without a good education,” said Williamson. “This is why I am so grateful that there are organizations like Say Yes Guilford because you all are advocates for education and career success and to be successful you have to have a good education.”
To find out more about becoming the next great female official on the court or on the football field contact Say Yes Guilford’s newest Alumni for Education participant Maili Williamson via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.