Nashville Native Headed To London As Olympic Referee - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Nashville Native Headed To London As Olympic Referee

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by Aundrea Cline-Thomas

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A Nashville native is headed to London in just days, but not as an athlete. She will serve as a referee.

When you think of the Olympics, you probably think of the sacrifice of the athletes and the fierce competition needed to be at the top of their sport – but they're not the only ones.

Felicia Grinter is a former employee of the Ford Motor Company who took a leave of absence years ago to pursue refereeing full-time and has never looked back.

There was no way of knowing as a high school student that her journey would come full circle.

"To transform from being an athlete at Glencliff (High School) and going on to referee and referee these kids that are still coming up," she said while standing on the basketball court at Glencliff. "And here I am about to go on another journey, in another country to referee the Olympics."

Just the sound of it, still makes it feel surreal.

"It was never a dream to be a referee," Grinter explained.

As a star basketball player at Glencliff, Grinter instead dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player. She even went on to play for Volunteer State Community College.

"I know I needed a credit in health and (physical education), officiating, can't be that hard," she told herself.

That's where she met a division one referee who spoke to her class and changed her life.

She went out there and everything that I was showing them she was a natural with," Charles Watkins remembered.

"He said why don't you referee to make a little extra money because I was on a basketball scholarship," Grinter explained. "So I needed a little extra money."

Grinter went on to work at the Ford Motor Company, but still officiated basketball games on the side.

She started officiating for the recreation league basketball games, then middle school, high school, college and then the pros, soon leaving Ford behind.

"Her skills, her character, her morals have all enhanced her career," Watkins added.

She's been preparing over the past twenty years for the ultimate assignment, the Olympics. The only woman in her field called to represent the United States in London.

"I screamed and I hollered and I prayed and I cried," Grinter said about getting the news. "And I accepted (the offer). I had to hold it in. I couldn't speak (about) it for about two months."

"You're not only representing us. You're representing our country," a friend told her while giving Grinter a hug. "What an honor. What a blessing. What a milestone. I love you."

There was plenty of love to go around as family, friends, colleagues and coaches gathered for a celebration.

"I'm so excited for her," Watkins said during the luncheon. "It's almost like seeing your child graduate from the highest level."

There's nothing more prestigious for referees than officiating at the Olympics.

"This is a dream come true. This is a dream come  true."

Now her sights are set on the gold.

"It does not matter as long as Team USA brings home that gold. Whether it be our basketball team or if it be me as a referee."

But before the first whistle this is one game where the winner is already determined.

"It just brought chills but it's all done from the Lord above."

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