Emily Clarke, a woman of records. U SPORTS

In September, she became the first female head referee in U Sports Football when she officiated a game between the Alberta Golden Bears and the Calgary Dinos. The year before, she was the first woman to officiate a CFL playoff game. Clarke sets no limits for herself.

"Sometimes it's surreal to think that I'm the first to do several things as a referee in Canadian football," Clarke said in an interview with U Sport News. "It was pretty interesting to look back and think, okay, I'm the first woman to put on the white hat in any of these games, and I think it's even cooler to know that I won't be the last," added the woman who continues to break records within the organisation that runs and organises collegiate American football in Canada.

Clarke's opportunity came after she made U Sports history a year earlier. In 2022, she became the first female referee to to work a CFL playoff game. Destiny was in her favour when she was unexpectedly invited to be part of the officiating team for the BC Lions - Winnipeg Blue Bombers game at IG Field.

Emily Clarke has already broken U Sports and CFL records. GETTY IMAGES
Emily Clarke has already broken U Sports and CFL records. GETTY IMAGES

An official had a problem. Clarke had to step in. "As she said in the aforementioned interview, "It was like, wow, I'm in the game for the West final.

Clarke was ready, and proved it the following season when Darren Hackwood, the league's associate vice-president of officiating, asked if she'd be interested in becoming a CFL referee.

At the time, they were considering working with U Sports, specifically Canada West. Her name came up. Clarke had officiated in the Canada West before, but had never had the opportunity to become a head referee. Once again, she was doing something unprecedented and special. Clarke broke another barrier and set a new record with 20 years of officiating experience.

"CFL Manager of Officials Al Bradbury said, "It's important for us to find people like Emily to help grow the sport. The key is to keep working. In a discipline like officiating, learning and training are the foundation of success. It's a process of gaining experience. That's what makes you a professional."

Clark believes the relationship between the CFL and U Sports will continue to serve as the springboard for individuals. It's a way for talent to grow. It's a filter for knowledge. 

Clarke hopes to inspire many more women to follow in her path. GETTY IMAGES
Clarke hopes to inspire many more women to follow in her path. GETTY IMAGES

In her quest and desire to break down barriers and achieve equality in all aspects of sport and society, Clarke emphasises the cooperation and support she has received from all the officials around her, regardless of rank. She has received special support from Darryl Baron, Referee in Chief for Canada West. He believed in what Clarke was doing when she started working with the conference in 2017. "I'm not surprised by the success she's had," Baron said.

Clarke proclaims that the same support she has received will be extended to those who come after her. So that everything she has achieved becomes normal and not news. "But I think as women, we are seen differently. You don't want to be the person who went in and ruined it for everyone who comes after. You want to be able to leave the door open for whoever comes in," she explains.

In May 2022, Clarke added something else to her CV when she was able to join six other female officials from across Canada in Ottawa to officiate at the Red and White match organised by Football Canada in preparation for the IFAF Women's World Cup. Now they're forming a group, sharing anecdotes and stories to guide future generations. Clarke is the first to believe that Football Canada's work of inclusion and commitment to growing the female community will continue.

She encourages those interested in officiating not to hesitate to ask, just as those wanting to play can always join the local team and "get involved."