/The white cap fit trailblazing SEC football official Hubert Owens perfectly

The white cap fit trailblazing SEC football official Hubert Owens perfectly

Although you may not be familiar with his name, you do know his face. Most likely, you know his voice. He is the man in the stripes who wore the white cap every day, which distinguishes him from other officials. He is the one who blows the whistle that starts the games. He was the man who stood behind the quarterback and adjusted his microphone so that he could tell the millions of people across the country about penalties and how much it would cost them. He was the calm in the chaos that is college football. He was the one who ran the show. He was the man who ran the show from the beginning until his retirement at the end of the 2019 season. Hubert Edward Owens, 62 years old, was born in Yazoo City. His story is worth sharing. Hubert Owens grew up in Yazoo – “half hills, all Delta, all crazy,” wrote Willie Morris. He doesn’t recall a time when there was a ball. He doesn’t even remember when whistles, red and white striped shirts and black and white striped shirts were available. These were his father’s, Hubert Roosevelt Owens. He officiated in high school games as well as in the SWAC. His father would often take his sons with him to the games where he worked. Big Hubert was an umpire. He stood in the middle defensive secondary just a few feet from the line. The umpire is usually the one who calls holding penalties. The offense usually grunts when the umpire throws their flag. Big Hubert took his son with him to games in Jackson, Grambling and Itta Bena, where almost all of the players, fans, and officials were African-American. Here’s the thing: While many college players were Black on Saturdays, officials weren’t. It is hard to imagine what that must have made on a 10-year old who loved sports as much Hubert did. Owens stated that half a century later, Owens still doesn’t think about it as much. That’s the only way it is.” Big Hubert was the officiating official for high school games at the Magnolia High School Activities Association before integration. This association was abolished after integration. The officials from the Magnolia High School Activities Association had to file an injunction with the court to be allowed to officiate at the Mississippi High School Activities Association’s integration games. This was just 50 years ago. Hubert Owens, a little boy from Hubert’s hometown, was an athlete before he became a referee. At Yazoo High, he played football and ran track. Peter Boston, the brother of Ralph Boston, was his coach and the one who taught him how to run the hurdles in track. Hubert placed third in the state for that event. In those days, Hubert’s football hero was Willie Brown of Yazoo, a great NFL cornerback and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Hubert Owens was a talented defensive back who was awarded a scholarship to Mississippi Valley State. Davis Weathersby, a SWAC legend, recruited him. You can still find Hubert Owens among the SWAC and MVSU record books. Owens scored a touchdown in a SWAC match against Arkansas-Pine Bluff when he returned a blocked goal from 99 yards. Owens graduated from MVSU and tried pro football, but he found that he was not good enough. Naturally, he became an officer. Like father, like child. Hubert Owens, the younger of the two, officiated in high school basketball and later in the SWAC. He was initially a side judge. He sat behind the defense and made most calls that involved pass plays. He was a promising official in one of the top SWAC crews. In 2002, Owens’ career as an officiator was forever changed by an event. His crew called a match between Prairie View and Texas Southern at the annual Labor Day Classic. Indianola’s Dr. Cassie “Cass” Pennington was the crew chief and the referee. Owens stated that Dr. Pennington had said he was not feeling well and wouldn’t be able to play the game. Pennington stated, “He looked straight at me and took off his white hat.” Hubert Owens was appointed a referee throughout his entire career. This changed dramatically in 2005. Owens was at a Beaumont, Texas officiating clinic when he met an official who informed him that he would soon hear from the SEC. The man said to Owens, “They want a Black referee” and that he was the only one on their roster. That’s exactly what happened. Owens was the only African American referee to the 2005 football season. He became the first African American to referee the SEC Championship Game at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Formerly the Director of Contract Compliance for Atlanta, Owens is now the Director of National Supplier Diversity and Contract Compliance at Luster National, Inc. Steve Shaw, a former SEC referee and the NCAA National Coordinator for Officials, was the one who tabbed Owens to become SEC history. Shaw stated that Hubert is a very good official but his game management is what makes him stand out. He’s the boss and everyone knows it, even though he rarely has to speak up. That’s No. 1, No. 2, because of the relationship he had built with his coaches and the respect they had for him. They would look at Hubert and say, “OK, let’s get Hubert’s team today.” They’ll be in good hands.” Stan Murray, a former Mississippi State star player served as a back judge for Owens’ crew during most of his 15-year tenure in the SEC. Both were born into two very different environments. Murray was raised in Jackson, where he attended predominantly segregated schools. He also embraced the SEC. Owens attended an all-Black school at Yazoo City for many years during his childhood. He was a member of the SWAC, which he identified with. Later in their lives, they met through officiating. They became good friends and have a lot of mutual respect. Murray said, “Everyone had a nickname and that will tell you how much Hubert was loved.” Murray is amazed at the calmness of his friend during the most stressful moments of officiating high-level football games. Bowl games can be worth millions of dollars and the livelihood of coaches are in jeopardy. Murray describes Owens as “unflappable.” “The players, fans, and coaches would all go nuts and he never changed,” Murray said of Owens. Shaw, who was one college football’s most respected referees, strongly believes Owens had to deal with pressures he didn’t face. Shaw stated that Hubert was a burden that I didn’t have to bear because of his character. Think about it. His race made him so easily recognizable. He was the only person of his race to do what he did at the level that he was doing. He had to be a good person every week. He needed to be prepared. Because he was representing many people, he had to deliver. It’s safe to say that he was watched closely by many officials. His incredible career is even more remarkable to me because of that. His career was full of firsts and he won them all. He was the first person to do this, and the first one to do that. He also ran the show at the SEC Championship. It was a feat he did very well. He was able to handle some of the most important bowl games with great success. He was a role model for young African American officers.” Owens replied, “Well, it did feel like I was representing more people than me. First, I felt that I was representing my father and many others who didn’t have the same opportunities. It was a huge responsibility. Then there was the responsibility that I felt I had to others who would follow me. I wanted to prove that I, and others who are like me, could take on the big stage. “I am proud of all the firsts that I have had,” So, we’ve seen the lasts. Now it’s time for us to discuss the lasts. Owens stated that he knew it was time to retire after the 2019 season. He said, “Physically it was time.” Was this his last SEC game? Owens chuckled, “It was a piss-and miss game, the (2019] Egg Bowl.” Shaw said, “He handled that end as well as he could.” Owens’ last game was a matchup of two schools from his state, which his father couldn’t attend, let alone ever officiate. Owens might be most proud of his last bowl game. He has been involved in many big bowl games over his career, including the Fiesta Bowl. Shaw gave Shaw the Celebration Bowl, which saw Alcorn, SWAC champion, and North Carolina A&T, MEAC champion North Carolina A&T. It was televised nationally on ABC. Shaw assembled an all-star team of African American officials from both the Sun Belt and SEC conferences to play in that game. Shaw stated, “Obviously, Hubert Owens had to be the referee.” Owens said, “It felt like the perfect ending for me, with my background in SWAC officiating and following in my father’s footsteps.