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Unsung hero, Vincent Parker, tells his story

Parker was inducted into the CIAA Officials Hall of Fame in 2010.

Unsung hero, Vincent Parker, tells his story
October 13
13:54 2021

Back in the 1990s, Winston-Salem native Vincent Parker became one of the most respected football officials in the game on the collegiate level. He was also one of only six Black officials in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) at the time. His hard work on the field helped pave the way for other officials of color that followed.

Parker is naturally a humble person by nature and was an Atkins High School graduate in the class of 1966. His path in officiating began as a young adult when he would officiate youth football. Parker quickly moved up the ranks to high school football and eventually to the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) for 15 years, before joining the ACC.

It was a huge accomplishment for an official of color to make it to the level of major Division I football. Parker took pride in how far he had come in the world of officiating, but knew he still had to work hard to get better at his craft.

“When I got into the Atlantic Coast Conference, there were only five African American officials that I know of,” said Parker. “That’s why I say to my knowledge, because I am not aware that there were more than five at the time and I made number six and the only one from North Carolina; once again to my knowledge.”

Starting out, Parker did not envision himself making it to the highest level of college football. He enjoyed watching the game and being an official allowed him to stay close to it.

“I didn’t see myself making it this far,” he said. “There are some officials that you see on the field who are players of the game. I did not play football, except for one year on JV at Atkins. I was too skinny, and I just didn’t have the talent, but I loved the game, so I became a student of the game.

“I consider myself a student of the game in that I did not play the game, but I studied the game and became knowledgeable of the rules and the mechanics of the game to become an official. I just loved it and I thought I would get into it.”

After working in the CIAA for several years, Parker started to feel that he could go beyond where he currently was. During that time, there were very few Black officials that made the move to Division I from HBCU football conferences.

“I thought I was capable of doing it, so I got invited to work a scrimmage at Wake Forest and I worked the scrimmage and I would assume they liked what I did, because I got invited to do other scrimmages,” he continued. 

During that time, Parker was a principal at an elementary school. He recalled a story about receiving a phone call while at school from the supervisor of officials from the ACC. He was invited to join the ACC officials on that day.

“So, I never was on the supplemental list of officials, I went straight from the CIAA to the Atlantic Coast Conference on a crew,” Parker said about the phone call.

Parker says he felt some pressure to perform at a high level and not make many mistakes, because being the only Black official on the crew, most often, meant eyeballs were going to be on him.

“During that time, for the most part, you were the only African American on the crew,” he stated. There was pressure, because anytime it’s just one of us working in a predominately white organization, there is always pressure, whether it’s football or anything. 

“As we say, you have to be three times as good to do the job and of course everything you do is scrutinized from the way you look, your physical appearance, the way you look in your uniform, to how you perform on the field. So yes, there was pressure.”

Parker said he received a lot of support from his wife Jacqueline during those years and she traveled a lot with him to the games. He gives her a lot of credit for uplifting him during those years officiating.

Not only did Parker make sure he conducted himself to the best of his abilities, he made sure to pass along the knowledge he acquired to other young Black officials during his 14 years.

“I am retired from the field now and I’ve been retired from the field for about five or six years, but I am a neutral observer for the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference),” Parker said about his current position. “And what I do is observe the younger officials. I go into the locker room prior to the game and share a few thoughts of wisdom and encouragement.

“I write up how well they did, or the things they did not do well, and I submit my report to the supervisor of officials in the MEAC conference. After the game I go back into the locker room and I do a post-game review with the officials. I only give them feedback to help them to become better as young officials.”

Parker was also a lifelong educator. He graduated from Winston-Salem State University with his undergraduate degree in 1970 and obtained his master’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University. His career in education spanned from 1971 and until 1999. He was a teacher, assistant principal, and principal during his time in the education system and enjoyed being a positive role model for young people.

“Both sides were enjoyable and rewarding and, of course, I grew in both,” Parker said about teaching and being an administrator.  

Being one of the few Black officials in the ACC, along with being a Black male in education in a leadership role, should make Parker a local hero and trailblazer. Parker is not one to boast or brag, so he does not consider himself to be either, but rather just a man who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and excel at his craft of officiating.

“I never thought about being a trailblazer, because I know there were Black principals before me, so I really don’t see myself as a trailblazer,” he said. “I see myself as a young Black man that wanted to do the best I could and as much as I could for children, because they are our future.”

For his 15 years of service, Parker was inducted into the CIAA Officials Hall of Fame in February of 2010. He says it was a shock when he was elected and wasn’t expecting it to happen. He was so well respected during his time officiating that he was selected to officiate the Army/Navy game in 2008.

Parker says he does miss the camaraderie with his other officials, but on the other hand, does not miss the cold weather or running through airports trying to catch a connecting flight.

Parker grew up in Cleveland Avenue Homes and one of his goals growing up was to do better for himself and live a good life. He has not only done that, but has made himself and his family proud in the process with how successful he became.

“I grew up in the ghetto and I always believed that it’s not about where you come from, it’s where you want to go and it was about where I wanted to go,” Parker said about his life. “I wanted to do better than what my parents did and going to college was certainly a way out of that and being a sports official was something I never dream about.

“I never dreamed I have achieved the things that I have achieved. I never thought I would work a Bowl game in the Superdome in New Orleans. I never thought I would work before 110,000 fans at Ohio State. Those are the kinds of things that you never thought would happen, but I did believe that if you worked hard at whatever you were doing, good things would happen for you and that’s what happened for me. I was very blessed and very fortunate.”

Parker wanted to emphasize that even though he put in the necessary work, he did not get to become as successful as he did without the help of others. Over the years, he had mentors and people who gave him words of wisdom and he is thankful for that.

“I didn’t achieve anything on my own, nor does anyone,” he said. “I had African American mentors that were already in the CIAA and the MEAC that mentored me and helped me focus on becoming a college official.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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