The Canadian Football League (CFL) announced on Monday a new program aimed at training football referees and former athletes to officiate at a professional level for the CFL. Nine participants have already been selected. The program begins at CFL training camp on May 13.

“Each participant will take part in the program for a maximum of two years. Successful graduates may then be selected to join the league’s staff, while others will join the pipeline of officials that continue to hone their craft at the amateur level until professional opportunities arise,” a press release from the CFL read. “The program includes virtual and in-person sessions to develop the technical aspects of officiating, such as mechanics, standards, fitness and administration, as well as, in-depth preparation for performance at the highest levels.”

One of the program’s objectives is to encourage inclusion and diversity within the officiating community. Of the nine participants, which include a woman, six of them are men of African descent, including Anthony Williams and Vincent Williams from Dartmouth and Halifax.

Anthony’s brother, Andre Williams, served with Anthony and Vincent last year in the Nova Scotia high school football championship game. It was the first high school football championship game in the province where three of the seven officials were Black. It was also the first where the head official, Vincent Williams, was also Black.

Head official, Vince Williams (middle), is joined by twin brother officials Anthony Williams (left) and Andre Williams (right) ahead of the 2021 provincial high school championship game. Photo: Matthew Byard.

“We’ve identified dedicated and passionate individuals who can expand the officiating footprint across the country —  not only geographically, but also with under-served communities,” said Laurence Pontbriand, manager, football and officiating development, as well as, co-chair of the league office’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee.

Last year’s provincial high school football championship was also the first that saw a Black head coach of the winning team —  Dion Thomas-Hodges who lead the Auburn Eagles to victory.

When the Examiner covered that championship in November, Vincent Williams spoke about the historical nature of the game as well as his ambitions as a football official.

“The first thing they asked me was ‘Why do you wanna be an official?’” Williams said when recalling his first meeting with the Nova Scotia Football Officials Association. “And I said to them, ‘Because I want to be the first Black or African descent official to officiate in the CFL.”

Darren Hackwood, the associate vice-president of officiating for the CFL, said “the life of an official extends beyond the field.”

“In addition to game management and officiating philosophy, there’s much to learn about time commitments, personal stressors and more — these aspects of being an official aren’t talked about enough,” Hackwood said. “They will be a part of this program and the league’s training moving forward. We’ll focus on technical skill, and also personal, emotional and mental well-being.”

“Our goal is to put officials in the best position to succeed, and in turn, they’ll be able to better support well-officiated and well-played football. Beyond the program, we’ll continue to work with our participants and monitor their progress as they move forward with their officiating careers.”

The 2022 CFL Officiating Academy is set to run from one to a maximum of two years. The full list of participants is as follows:

(Name | Hometown | Local association | Officiating position

  • Alex Boily | St-Georges, Que. | ARAFQ | Line of scrimmage
  • Hassan Cohen | Nanaimo, B.C. | BCFOA | Deep side
  • Eric Gyebi | Brampton, Ont. | LFOA | Line of scrimmage
  • Romeo Kabongo | Airdrie, Alta. | CFOA | Deep side
  • Stephanie Korchynski | Winnipeg | MFOA | Line of scrimmage
  • Rolly Lumbala | Langley, B.C. | BCFOA | Line of scrimmage
  • Kyle Mikulik | Winnipeg | MFOA | Line of scrimmage
  • Anthony Williams | Dartmouth, N.S. | NSFOA | Line of scrimmage
  • Vincent Williams | Halifax | NSFOA | Deep side
2022 CFL Officiating Academy Participants. Photo: CFL

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Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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