AllSportsTucson.com is running a series of articles on local sports figures who are making an impact on the community. You can refer to this link to catch up on some of our previous profiles of those who mean a lot to Tucsonans.
Tucsonan Felecity Willis reached one of her goals of officiating Pac-12 women’s basketball games this season, just another example of her achieving the fruits of her labor, some that involve personal gains and others that impact our community.
As diligent as Willis was in basketball as a player at Arizona — she was an All-Pac-10 selection under Joan Bonvicini — and now a Division I referee, she puts forward the same effort into making young lives around her better.
Willis, a modest person, won’t be the first to tell you she bought shoes for a young girl who was trying to play basketball in dilapidated low-heel shoes not made for maneuvering on the court during Corey Williams’ Tucson Summer Pro League for Kids.
“I just went out and bought her a pair of basketball shoes, not really thinking anything about it,” she said. “She ended up wearing the basketball shoes the rest of the season and whenever I see her, she would have them on. … Being able to put a smile on someone’s face, it’s priceless. I was glad I was able to do it.”
Willis also routinely donates shoes to my brother Andy’s Kicks 4 Kids drive that enables kids from low-income families the opportunity to have shoes they can wear to school and use for PE classes.
“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.”
Willis will also not generate talk about her inviting a student from a struggling family at my brother’s Rio Vista Elementary School to go Christmas shopping with her every year.
“They don’t know who she is coming in, but they know who she is coming out,” my brother said of the families Willis touches with her generosity.
Willis holds the distinction of playing on four NCAA tournament teams under Bonvicini and was also a part of two Women’s College World Series teams under Mike Candrea (as a freshman and sophomore).
She was a teammate of Arizona coach Adia Barnes for two seasons — when Barnes was a junior and senior and she was a freshman and sophomore in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Willis and Barnes were part of the only team in Arizona history to finish in the top 10 — in 1997-98 when the Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to UConn.
Willis mentioned that she sees a more calm and collected Barnes as a coach than when she was as a player.
“When she played, she was a beast,” Willis said. “She was an undersized post player. She didn’t care who she was going up against. She would get excited.
“One of my main memories of her always was that she wore a mouthpiece. She had braces. Every time she got excited and she took the mouthpiece out, she had saliva everywhere. That’s just how it was. She would get excited. She was a player you don’t want to mess with.”
After giving coaching a try following her graduation from Arizona, she put her mind on officiating. Tucsonan Bob Scofield, who runs an officiating camp in Tucson, noticed she has a vast knowledge of basketball when they came in contact during her brief coaching stint and suggested to Willis to give refereeing a try.
In five years after she started, Willis began officiating all across the Western United States employed by six different Division I college conferences, including the Pac-12, Big Sky, West Coast Conference, Big West, WAC and Conference USA. She also works NCAA Division II, NAIA and junior college basketball games.
Amid all of that, she occupies her summer at The Gregory School on most weekends working games between kids 11-13 for the TSPL for Kids. She could be working exclusively at different refereeing camps during the summer as a clinician like her contemporaries.
“People say, ‘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,” Willis told me last year.
“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 TSPL for Kids, “Fee (nickname for Felecity), being who she is, always wants to help in any way she can.”
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. A native of Apple Valley, Calif., which is near Victorville northwest of Los Angeles, Willis has called Tucson home since her Arizona days. Her brother joined the family here in 2002.
“I fell in love with the campus. I fell in love with Tucson,” Willis said. “For me, Tucson and Apple Valley, where I went to high school, are very similar. Tucson was just a better desert, a nicer desert, and it’s grown so much now, it’s more beautiful.
“We’ve all been here. We’re a close family. For me, personally, I love Tucson.”
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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.