KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Tech graduate Brooke Mayo made history last month as a part of the first American officiating crew to referee a senior FIFA World Cup final.
Mayo attended the Cookeville-based university from 2007-2010. As a member of the Golden Eagles women’s soccer team, she currently ranks fourth in program history in career matches played.
Her refereeing days began long before as a 13-year-old in Texas looking to make her own money. She continued to referee while in college, working alongside the same referees who would often officiate the Tennessee Tech games she played in.
Mayo credits her college professors with teaching her skills that made her successful as a teacher, coach, and an assistant athletic director while balancing her officiating duties. She also credited another experience: open mic nights at the university theatre.
“I’m forever thankful for my time at Tech,” Mayo said. “I enjoyed playing in the waterfalls and I enjoyed my time at the Backdoor Playhouse, stepping out of my comfort zone and getting on the stage. I think refereeing is a bit of acting as well, so I think that comes together.”
After attending graduate school at Middle Tennessee State University, Mayo became a teacher, soccer coach, and assistant athletic director at Stewart’s Creek High School in Smyrna. She continued to rise up the referee ranks while working at the school and was appointed to the FIFA Panel, the shortlist of referees eligible to officiate the most prestigious international competitions, in 2018.
Mayo aspired to reach the highest level of the game after attending the 2010 FIFA Men’s World Cup in South Africa with some of her Tennessee Tech teammates. She called the realization of her dream by being selected to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, “a dream come true.”
“I think for me personally, all the years leading up to it, in particular once I got nominated as a candidate, that was the stressful time. That was the hard time,” she said. “Actually being at the World Cup? That was a lot of fun. I enjoyed myself and I just got to compete but also have fun.”
She worked five games in all at tournament in Australia and New Zealand, including a semifinal and the final.
The United States Women’ National Team had never finished worse than third place at a World Cup before 2023, meaning Americans referees were unable to officiate matches late in the tournament due to their participation. Their Round of 16 exit in 2023 allowed the American officials to be assigned some of the tournament’s most crucial and scrutinized matches.
The final between England and Spain marked the first time in history that U.S. Soccer referees led an officiating crew in a senior FIFA World Cup final.
“It’s a small window and I don’t think Team USA is going to have the same type of showing at the next major event,” she said. “So when they fell early in the tournament, all the American officials there saw that as an opportunity for us to step up.”
Mayo also hailed the tremendous growth of the women’s game over the last 20 years.
“It has grown significantly,” she said. “75,000 at the World Cup final? So many games sold out. So many millions and millions of people watching and tuning in? It’s unbelievable. It’s awesome for young boys and girls to see opportunity as a referee, as a player, as a coach on both sides of the game.”
The growth of soccer in the United States also means a greater demand for referees at all levels. However, sports at all levels have been plagued by a referee shortage that has been exacerbated by poor fan behavior. Mayo said soccer is no different and called on organizers and clubs to protect officials and hold unruly spectators accountable.
“I think we’re losing a lot of good, young officials because of poor spectator behavior. Parent behavior, mostly. It’s sad,” she said. “I also work local games in my community. I like to give back to the middle school games and the high school games and I get treated worse there than any professional level.”
Mayo credited Tennessee’s organizer body for soccer for protecting her early in her career and helping her on her path to becoming one of America’s top referees.
“Tennessee State Soccer Association does a really good job of standing up because there were multiple times where I wanted to stop reffing in Tennessee and they had my back and it kept me from leaving refereeing all together.”
Mayo has set new goals for her career following her first appearance at a World Cup, including officiating 100 Major League Soccer matches and refereeing at Olympics.