Tucsonan Felecity Willis officiates all across the Western United States employed by four different Division I college conferences, and she works Division II, NAIA and junior college basketball games as well.
Yet here she is at The Gregory School on most weekends this summer working games between kids 11-13, far away from the college arenas, television and throng of media.
She could be working at different camps during the summer as a clinician like her contemporaries.
Why does she officiate in the Tucson Summer Pro League for Kids, organized by former Arizona player Corey Williams, given her five-year college officiating career after playing professionally and for the Wildcats’ women’s hoops program?
“I’m actually kind of surprised when people do say that,” Willis said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re out refereeing college basketball, but you’re still out doing these things?’ For me, it’s not only being around the kids, it’s also because of Corey. I’ve been around him a long time.
“I’m also the one who is in charge of scheduling the referees. Whenever I can, I am available. It also helps me with my game experience. It helps me as a referee when I’m out on the court working.”
Williams added about Willis’ presence at the Tucson Summer Pro League, “Fee (nickname for Felecity), being who she is, always wants to help in any way she can.”
Officiating was not her career ambition; coaching first interested her when she was playing basketball and softball at Arizona from 1996 to 2000.
She holds the distinction of playing on four NCAA tournament teams at Arizona as well as twice taking part in the Women’s College World Series with the softball team.
While playing professionally in basketball and softball, Willis was told by long-time Tucson basketball official Bob Scofield that she should give officiating a try.
She tried coaching at the high school level at Tucson, Salpointe and Rincon and also coached youth club teams, but she did not gain a sense of fulfillment.
“I would see Bob and he would always try to get me to come and referee. I was like, ‘Bob, no, I’m not going to referee,'” Willis said. “I never thought I would be a referee. When coaching didn’t pan out, I went to Bob and took him up on his offer. I went to one of his camps (in 2010) and I just fell in love with it.”
Within only three years, Willis started officiating Division I women’s college basketball games. She now works games in the Big Sky, Mountain West, West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference, as well as Division II, NAIA and junior college games.
Willis said Scofield saw in her a keen basketball knowledge, but that was only part of the reason why she was destined to be a referee.
“They’re looking for more female referees who played basketball at a high level,” Willis, who was an All-Pac-10 selection in Joan Bonvicini’s program. “That was me. I already had a foot in the door with that. They were just looking for more females to referee women’s basketball.”
Her next step: officiating Pac-12 games.
“It’s a matter of continuing to work hard and getting better,” she said. “Hopefully, my time will come then and I’ll get hired in the Pac-12. That’s my goal.”
What about officiating in the WNBA? Willis is not interested in that avenue in the slightest because of what takes place in the selection process.
“I had an opportunity to get into that three or four years ago, but I decided not to,” she said. “The thing is they don’t have a route where you can be a WNBA referee. They think that everybody they bring into the program can be an NBA referee. I don’t want to referee in the NBA. That’s how it works, unfortunately. I would love to referee in the WNBA, but oh well.”
Working Pac-12 games and gaining in stature within the college ranks will suit her fine.
She has an officiating role model in Brenda Pantoja, a good friend of hers who also played for Bonvicini at Arizona. Pantoja, whose officiating background includes working WNBA and NBA D-League games, has worked the last two Division I women’s championship games.
Encouragement from Pantoja and Scofield, and grading well in Division I games, provide Willis the confidence she needs to reach the Pac-12.
“Brenda has been instrumental for me,” Willis said. “She’s been there from Day One for me as well as with Bob. Whenever I need anything, I go to her with questions, or lately she’s been sending me quizzes.
“I go through the quizzes and I send her the answers back. With this profession, you have to constantly learn because if you don’t, the next referees, the ones under you, are going to pass you. You have to stay up on everything. Brenda’s been great helping me with that.”
Willis is one of seven college basketball referees with Tucson ties. The others are Pantoja, Scofield, Chris Rastatter, Ashley Gilpin, Chuck Rydzak and former Arizona basketball player Eugene Edgerson (who has worked Big Sky games the last two years).
Willis has a sense of pride that Tucson can produce that group of referees. Scofield aims to steer more toward that kind of success with his Southern Arizona Officials Camp.
Tucson is special to Willis and her parents, who relocated here from California during Willis’ career at Arizona and have remained in the city since.
Willis and Williams have preliminary plans in place to help the city’s disadvantaged youths to have the ability to acquire athletic shoes through donations, enabling them to compete in basketball and other sports to better their lives.
“There was a kid a couple of years ago who needed some shoes and Felecity gave her new shoes,” Williams said. “She didn’t want to have credit for it. She didn’t want people to know she did it, but me being who I am, I let everybody know that’s the type of person she is.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.