Gerald Austin 2007
If his little boy dreams had worked out, Dr. Gerald Austin would have been inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame a long time ago. As a mere child, his hopes of becoming a wonderful professional baseball player were taller than the Western North Carolina mountains where he grew up.
That it took a bit longer he owes to a life-altering moment when he was a 10th-grader at Clyde A. Erwin High School near Asheville. At the time, the moment seemed to represent nothing more than something to do in the afternoons after school for Austin and five of his high school friends. It became something to do – and do well – for most of the rest of his life. It was the day Austin’s high school basketball coached asked Austin and his buddies if they’d mind officiating afternoon basketball games for seventh- and eighth-graders.
“I never thought about doing it long term,” Austin said recently. Still, of the six boys drawn from the gymnasium that day, half of them wound up becoming professional game officials. In addition to Austin, Ronny Buckner and Ed Chambers found striped shirts to their liking.
Austin, who spent 30 years as a public school administrator, is at the pinnacle of his career as a game official, mostly in the National Football League where he has worked since 1982. He has blown whistles in three Super Bowl football games, including two as the referee, the man wearing the white cap and thus the man in charge of enforcing game law. He also stays busy as a lecturer and as the coordinator of collegiate football officials for Conference USA.
He has been honored by the National Football League as a recipient of the Art McNally Award which goes to an NFL game official who exhibits exemplary professionalism, leadership and commitment to sportsmanship on and off the field.
Austin is one of those rare individuals who remains calm in the brightest of spotlights. “I’ve been in some tight situations” as an NFL official, he said, “but I’ve never had the experience of butterflies. You’ve got to be loose. If you’re up tight, you work up tight. If you go into a game prepared, you’ve got to have confidence that you can do the job.”
That Austin could do the job was proven at the collegiate level where he was both a football and basketball official, including in the cauldron called the Atlantic Coast Conference. He has officiated some of the games’ biggest events and always has been quick to grade his own performance. “When you’re coming off the field, you know if you’ve done a good job or a bad job,” Austin said. “You either come off the field on a high, or with a bad taste in your mouth.”
Austin’s career has been one mostly of highs.
Now 66, Austin remains one of the NFL’s most respected referees. Yet he is to the point in his life at which he will, like many players, “take it a year at a time.
“When I retire will depend upon my physical ability, and my mental ability. Right now, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing on a Sunday afternoon.”
Austin, his wife Sylvia and their six children live in Summerfield.