Jodi Lyons knows exactly how many times she’s stepped onto a football field and not heard some sort of comment from someone, be it a parent, fan, player or coach.
“Not once,” said Lyons, now in her fifth season officiating high school sports – specifically the male-dominated pastime of football. “There’s been a couple of comments that I’ve heard that I remember: 'Why don’t you get out your pink flag,’ or, 'If you can’t throw your flag, get a man who can.’
“But I kind of take pride in it,” added Lyons, who makes her home in Maricopa. “When I hear, 'Oh god, there’s a woman official,’ I do take pride in that. I know I’m good at what I do, even if it surprises them.”
Lyons admits that her situation is unique, relatively at least.
“I know there aren’t a lot of (females officiating),” she said, adding that the training, updated seminars and skill sessions, and general knowledge of the game alone proves she belongs on a football field. “But there are a handful here in Arizona. One in particular, she does junior college and she does the Big Sky conference (NCAA Division I football).”
Lyons, a head linesperson for varsity games, got her gridiron start, officially, a few years back when she was officiating a youth match in Queen Creek.
“A guy came up to me and said you ought to go to the AIA and officiate there,” she said of contacting the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports.
But that doesn’t mean Lyons got her football start that recent – not by a long shot.
“I’ve always been a big Dallas Cowboys fan,” said Lyons, who grew up in Iowa, then had a first stint living in Arizona before moving to California and back to the desert once again.
“My dad bought me a football jersey when I was 4. I remember asking him, 'What team is this?’ He said the Cowboys, and ever since…
“Last year in the playoffs I probably had a couple of heart palpitations,” she said with a laugh. “I get too into it and freak too much, I admit it.”
But just watching the game never satisfied Lyons’ football fix. Playing, even if only with the neighborhood kids, is just as memorable now as ever, she said.
“I always played quarterback, whenever we played in the backyard or at recess,” Lyons said. “But when I got older, girls didn’t play football. That wasn’t a thing to do, I guess.”
Now, Lyons said she’s still known to head out front of her home in Glennwilde Groves and throw the ball around every once in a while. This time, though, it’s her soon-to-be
10-year-old son, Nick, on the other side catching spirals.
“He’s got a pretty good arm himself,” she said, adding that Nick is learning to love the high school version of the game as much as his mother does. “He always wants to go to my games.”
A supervisor at ACS, a human resources outsourcing firm based in Tempe, by day, Lyons admits that it isn’t so much the pay that fuels her other profession.
“It covers pretty much the gas, coming from Maricopa, that’s for sure,” she said of the stipend she gets officiating each game. “I just love doing it. Seeing a kid make a great play, or even just sportsmanship, really, is a great, great thing.”
A softball umpire between football seasons, Lyons said being behind the plate for a girls’ softball game does help give her better perspective on being one of the few females on the field during a football game.
“Generally, parents don’t bat an eye (at softball),” she said. “It’s not female-male. It’s 'Hey blue, you missed that call.’ It’s 'Hey blue,’ as opposed to 'what’s that girl doing out on the field.’”
That has led Lyons to the one realization all referees or athletic officials must come to, male or female.
“You’re going to get yelled at regardless,” she said with a chuckle. “You kind of know what you’re in for when you put that uniform on.”