Westmont Magazine One Woman's Official Goal
Catherine Conti ’97 graduated from Westmont determined to become a film producer. But after nine months of 14-hour days at Paramount Pictures, she quit a job she had worked hard to get.
Going home to Thousand Oaks, Calif., she waited on tables while deciding what to do.
When people asked about her plans, she jokingly told them she was going to be a yard marker for the San Francisco 49ers. “It seemed like a fun and easy thing to do and sounded more interesting than my boring life,” she said.
One day she casually asked a customer — who was a football coach — how to become a yard marker. He replied that most were former football officials. Then he encouraged her to attend a meeting for prospective referees and told her the time and place.
“Up until the afternoon of the meeting, I wasn’t sure I would do it,” she says. “I went on a whim. But when I decide to do something, I go all the way. I shoot for the moon. I enjoyed meeting the guys and was drawn in right away.”
Catherine had found her calling: becoming the first female referee in the National Football League. She began officiating for a children’s league in 2000 and five years later has progressed to varsity high school games. Next fall, she begins working at the junior college level. After that, she hopes to rise to NCAA Division I football games in the Mountain West or PAC 10 conference.
“I love officiating,” she says. “It’s an art form. I have to process information very quickly and take into account lots of variables before deciding to throw a flag or stop the clock. It is physically demanding and mentally challenging.”
Few women officiate football, but Catherine has received encouragement from fellow referees. “I have a great support system of officials I trust,” she says.
Promotions occur through a networking system, with officials evaluating their peers.“You work your best game and hope to get noticed,” she says. “As a woman, I get noticed whether I want to or not, which is a benefit.”
The Ventura County Star has also noticed Catherine. The paper ran a Nov. 3, 2004, feature story about her goal to officiate in the NFL.
To develop her skills, Catherine attends a training camp every summer, where she has met college and NFL officials. One of her roommates was a woman with 25 years of experience, who provided perspective and advice.
Until she makes it to the NFL, Catherine needs to support herself. When she returned to Thousand Oaks, she started volunteering for high school theater productions. A theatre arts major at Westmont, she missed producing shows. Eventually she realized she wanted to teach. After earning a credential, she became a drama and English teacher at Westlake High School in 2003.
“I love teaching and all the ‘aha’ moments,” she says. “It’s good to build relationships with students and see the impact that extra-curricular activities have on their lives.” She does two drama productions a year — both in the spring — so they don’t conflict with football.
Juggling officiating and teaching isn’t easy; neither is being feminine and “one of the guys.” “The trick is balancing friendships I develop through officiating with professionalism on and off the field,” she says. “I want to be promoted because I’m good enough and not because I’m a woman.”