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Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Maia Chaka played “pretty much every sport under the sun” — except football.
“After all my playing days were done, officiating was a way of staying involved in sports,” Chaka said. “I chose football because I was never able to play it.”
Chaka, a physical education teacher at a school for at-risk students in Virginia Beach, Va., began officiating at the high school level. After five years of working varsity-level games, she attended an officiating camp, where she caught the eye of a former NFL official, Gerald Austin, now the supervisor of officials for Conference USA. Austin invited her to officiate an East Carolina University scrimmage.
“It was basically a job interview or an audition,” she said.
She passed the audition. Austin hired her immediately after the scrimmage.
In 2014, as she entered her eighth season in stripes, Chaka was invited to join the NFL’s Officiating Development Program (ODP). ODP officials — the top non-NFL officials in the country — are the first to be considered to fill openings on NFL crews. As an ODP participant, Chaka is mentored by veteran NFL officials, works minicamps, attends clinics and officiates a preseason game.
“I’ve gotten so much feedback,” she said. “But the main thing is to always be calm. Control what you can control. Go out there, be confident and own your position.”
In 2014, Chaka got her first NFL experience as back judge for a preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. She admits that looking up at the numerous Super Bowl banners proudly hanging in Gillette Stadium was “surreal,” but once play began, it was just another game.
“You never know where you’ll end up if you try doing something,” she said.
As one of the top officiating prospects in the country, Chaka could become the first permanent female official in the NFL. But while she knows her potential place in league history, she makes one thing clear: “I’m an official first.”
Chaka continues to improve her knowledge of the rules, mechanics and skills at the college level. She knows that if the NFL comes calling, she’ll be ready.