Sebrina Philpart-Brunson has made history as one of few women ever to officiate a regular-season male college football game.
She forever changed the league when she joined her seven male counterparts, working as a Line Judge in the Stillman College vs. Tuskegee University football game in Tuscaloosa, Al. on Saturday, Sept. 20.
A Deerfield Beach native who relocated to Lithonia, Ga. in 2006, Philpart-Brunson, 41, made her way into the record books in the NCAA’s Division I, Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), the first woman ever to officiate a college football game in that conference.
“Mentally, it was exhausting with all of the attention placed on my being the first female to officiate in the conference, but because I had a job to do, I remained focused throughout the game,” Philpart-Brunson said in an interview with the South Florida Times.
In that history-making game, the Tuskegee University Golden Tigers won 42-7 over the Tigers of visiting Stillman College.
Formed in 1913, the SIAC consists of a total of 13 historically black colleges and universities, including Morehouse and Albany State Universities. Dozens of its players have gone on to play professional football, including David “Deacon” Jones, Bob Hayes, and Larry Little.
Philpart-Brunson acknowledged the long-standing tradition of the conference’s 95-year history, but she said this only motivated her.
“The coaches and the players welcomed me for my professionalism and I’m glad to have that first game in this conference behind me, and will continue to increase my knowledge so I can perfect my craft,” she said.
“I urge other women to pursue this type of a career, and not to be discouraged, because it can be done,” said Philpart-Brunson, who some day hopes to become an NFL referee.
Philpart-Brunson was born at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, and grew up in Deerfield Beach, where her parents and other family members still live.
She attended Deerfield Beach Senior High School, before transferring and then graduating from Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach in 1984.
While in high school, she lettered in several sports and attended Texas College on a basketball scholarship before eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in social work from Florida Atlantic University in 1992.
She began her career in 1995 after joining her now ex-husband, officiating youth and high school football games in Palm Beach and Broward counties, as a means for their family to spend more time together.
In 1996, she donated a kidney to her ailing father, who is still thriving after the life-saving transplant surgery.
“All of my life experiences contributed to my being able to accomplish this, and I’m thankful to my parents and everyone else who has supported me over the years,” she said.
Philpart-Brunson is a wife and mother of two boys and a girl, ages 18, 17 and 7, and when she is not studying football games, she works as a probation officer for the state of Georgia.
Balancing family life and work, she began her rise to the collegiate level when she started attending NCAA football officiating camps in 2001. Over time, and after relocating to Georgia in 2006, she eventually worked her way up to a reserve official’s position in the SIAC, where she became a time clock official in 2007.
During that same time, she was also a supplemental, or reserve, referee in the NCAA’s Division I, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).
It was during a game that took place in Greensboro, NC between North Carolina A&T and Johnson C. Smith University on Aug. 30, that she worked her first ever collegiate game as an on-the-field referee.
There are a handful of other women referees in college football. Sarah Thomas on Sept. 14, 2007 became the first female official in a Division I-A, during a Conference USA game in Memphis, Tenn. between the University of Memphis and Jacksonville State University.
Annice Canady, a Fort Lauderdale resident, began officiating football games at the college level in 2001. Canady has also operated the clocks that limit the amount of time coaches and quarterbacks can communicate via radio at games played at Dolphins Stadium.
This included the Super Bowl XLI game between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears on Feb. 1, 2007, which was an NFL first for a woman.
There are other women referees, but NCAA officials said they did not immediately know exactly how many. Nevertheless, three weeks after her first college game, Philpart-Brunson has made history in the SIAC.
“I’m both proud and thankful,” she said, the day after the game. “You must know the rules, and the mechanics of the game, because everyone is watching.”
Photo: Sebrina Philpart-Brunson