When Clarence Woody, Lakeisha Barron Brown and Steven Robinson took the Charleston Coliseum court Wednesday night, they knew how significant that was. It hadn’t been done before in West Virginia state basketball tournament history.
When the ball was tipped for the Class AAA girls basketball quarterfinal between Parkersburg and Spring Mills, Woody, Brown and Robinson became the first all-African-American crew to officiate a state tournament game in West Virginia. The three also officiated Thursday morning’s Gilmer County-Wheeling Central Class A quarterfinal before the tournament was suspended due to coronavirus concerns.
One may ask what took so long for that to happen? Regardless, it was a significant landmark in West Virginia prep sports.
Yet, if you ask any of the three, they hope that’s not at the top of the list of why they’re remembered. Of course, they’re humbled and honored to be the three to accomplish that milestone. But going on, they want to be known as three people who are good at their job.
“The thing I don’t want people to lose perspective of is that we want to be remembered not just as the first African-American crew,” Woody said. “We want to be remembered and have people say that Clarence Woody, Lakeisha Brown and Steven Robinson are good officials. They’re professional in what they do in their communication with the coaches and the players. That’s why we do what we do.”
To reach the level of officiating a state basketball tournament is no random happening, Secondary School Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan said. Officials have to earn their way in. Members of each regional officiating board nominate people for the opportunity. The SSAC evaluates the contenders and the top officials make the cut for the regional and state tournaments.
The trio found out about a month before the tournament they would be working together. All of them are veterans to the job. This was Robinson’s sixth year officiating in the Kanawha Valley, Brown’s 12th and Woody’s 36th.
Still, even with as much time as they’ve put into officiating, they still were about to break a very important barrier. Woody invited Brown and Robinson to his house for dinner to discuss their charge. This was Woody’s 13th state tournament, but the first for both Brown and Robinson.
“We sat down and talked about the significance of it,” Robinson said. “It’s a big thing, but we still had to come out and take care of business. It was more about getting prepped, talking about what we were going to do, how we were going to handle ourselves, what we’re going to do on the court.”
Brown actually made history at the state tournament twice over. Not only was she part of the first all-African-American officiating crew, but she also was the first African-American woman to officiate a state tournament game. For a former basketball player and coach, it was an exciting feeling to earn that role. Still, she wants people to see her for the work she does on the court.
“Looking at basketball as a whole and looking at the climate sometimes of basketball and what officials have to endure here, we want to be remembered in that we called what we saw and we called a very professional game,” Brown said. “We know history has been made, but we also know history has been made because we’re all officials who stepped on the floor and called a great game.”
Woody, Brown and Robinson aren’t just looking at what they’ve done this week. They also can see what their accomplishment might do for other African-Americans who want to follow in their footsteps. They know there might be someone in the stands — a high school player or even a young child — who saw the trio and said to themselves, “I’d like to try that, too.”
That’s something that makes the off-the-court work — the camps and rules clinics and studying — even more satisfying. And it’s another reason they want to be remembered above everything as good officials.
“I’ve had plenty of firsts,” Woody said. “This is one of the bigger ones. We’re setting a precedent for those coming after us. To see [Brown and Robinson] reach that pinnacle in their life is extremely gratifying, knowing the thing we’ve done and the things that we do are worthwhile.”