Pro Football's first female official honored by AFL
Friday August 28, 2015
LAS VEGAS - When you're around Terri Valenti, you realize that she is neither attempting to be known as a trailblazer, nor afraid of what that term means. She's a mother to five boys, wife to a former U.S. Navy Submarine Officer, and now the 2015 Arena Football League Official of The Year. Valenti is the very first female recipient of the award. On Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, she will become the first female ever to work as an official during an ArenaBowl.
Before Sarah Thomas became the first full-time NFL official or Jen Welter became the first NFL coach, Terri Valenti was the first female to officiate professional football when she began working United Football League games back in 2009. A year prior to that, she became the first female official in the Mid-American Conference.
Terri's passion for the game of football started at a young age.
"I have enjoyed watching football since I was a little girl," Valenti said. "I have been around the football field pretty much my whole life, by way of my own participation. As a cheerleader, in the marching band in high school, as a flag girl at the University of Florida, playing intramurals and co-eds in my younger years."
So when her oldest son was getting into high school football, it came as no surprise that she wanted to be more involved with the game.
"I thought I'd like to be around the sport," Valenti remembered. "I'm not really a coach, what can I do to help out the kids and stay active? So in my earlier years I said, well maybe I can officiate. And I've stuck with it ever since."
And so began her officiating journey in 1999, five years before meeting her mentor, Carl Paganelli at a Reno officiating camp. Paganelli is the Supervisor of Officials for the Arena Football League. When Carl met Terri, he knew she was something special.
"I was impressed by how attentive she was and how much she put into what she was trying to do on the officiating field," Paganelli said. "I came up to her and I asked her if she was really 100 percent wanting to be an official. And she said yes, she said she was open to any suggestions that I had. So I started to work with her."
Terri then continued to flourish, breaking down barrier after barrier. The milestone "firsts" that she achieved paved the way for women across the officiating industry to feel welcome and comfortable.
Before she was an official, Terri was a professor at Kent State in Ohio. She has been able to mesh her passion for teaching and football into her skills as a trainer for officials around the world.
"I actually kind of parlayed my [school] teaching into teaching officiating. So that's where Arena Football in China has come about and actually helping the Italian Football League and training their officials. So I am still teaching, just in a different capacity," Valenti said.
Valenti's hard work and expertise on the field as an Arena Football official has been shown since her first games with the League back in 2011. Her well-rounded skill set off the field is part of the reason that she has been chosen as 2015 AFL Official of the Year. The work she has done to help make the officials' training tools more innovative has played a vital role in improving the way that crews can be evaluated on film.
"We started about a year ago putting together a mechanics manual that was sent to the coaches and the officials," Paganelli explained. "It shows every position that they should be at during pass plays, running plays and the kicking plays that develop in Arena Football."
"Terri also took it a step further and put in a mechanic where it shows the official moving the ball down the field and showing the positions they should be at any given time during the play. It was 100 percent better than we've ever had in Arena Football. She put countless hours in it on her own time."
Through her dedication, her humility is easy to see in her response when asked what it means for her to receive this award.
"I really, really have a fondness and a love for Arena Football. I love the game. It's so much fun to officiate and the officials are great. I just can't say enough of what a great organization it is to me and I support it whole-heartedly. Gosh, I'm just totally honored," Valenti said.
When asked about her reaction to Sarah Thomas becoming the first full-time NFL official Valenti said, "I was excited for her. Then I thought, girl, go out and do a good job for all of the female officials that came before you and will come after you."
After ArenaBowl, you can find Valenti in action at Levi's Stadium near her home and alma mater, Stanford, in Palo Alto, CA, where she was hired by the NFL as a replay communicator at the stadium.
Terri Valenti's dedication to the game she loves and her determination to do anything that she can to make it better makes her a well worthy recipient of this distinguished award. She is a pioneer for women in sports and a true role model for anyone looking to achieve their dreams.
About the AFL
Since its inception in 1987, the Arena Football League has showcased a fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. The ESPN family of networks and CBS Sports Network will nationally broadcast AFL games each week for the entire 2015 season. This season will also be the first with Scott C. Butera leading the way as Commissioner. The AFL schedule culminates with ArenaBowl XXVIII Saturday, August 29, 2015 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.