Maia Chaka has been named the first Black female official in the NFL.
Speaking on Today Friday, Chaka — who has been training with the league since 2014 and, before that refereed college football games — said she "never thought the day would come" that she would reach the historic milestone.
"He goes, 'Welcome to the National Football League,' and I just went nuts," she recalled of Wayne Mackie, a former NFL official who now serves as vice president of officiating evaluation and development, officially inviting her on board Monday.
After Mackie gave her the good news, "I asked him, 'Hey, are you punking me? You've gotta be kidding me,' " Chaka said.
"Because I've been at it for so long, I just never thought the day would come," she added. "I just enjoyed working."
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
Steelers' Mike Tomlin on Lack of Black NFL Head Coaches: We "Haven't Been Able to Move the Needle"
Chaka is only the second female NFL official after Sarah Thomas, who was named to her position in 2015 and, last month, became the first-ever woman to referee at the Super Bowl.
And the newly appointed Chaka admitted Friday on Today that her own NFL role "didn't really hit me until just now."
"When I saw the introduction, I'm like, 'This is really real,' because this is just something that we're just always taught to work hard for," she said. "Sometimes we just don't take time to stop and smell our own roses."
Chaka added, "I've just been grinding for so long at this, it's just an honor to be able to join the National Football League."
Outside of her officiating career, Chaka has worked for 10 years alongside at-risk youth as a health and physical education teacher at Renaissance Academy in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
She said she wants her students to know that "if you have a passion for something and if have a drive for something, don't let it hold you back just because you think that something may give you some type of limitation. Just continue to work hard and always, always, always just follow your dreams."
Chaka, who began her career 15 years ago and will make her NFL regular-season debut this September, also told Today that "patience," an ability and a willingness to "listen" and being "decisive" are all integral ingredients in being an effective official on the field.
"You're going to make mistakes," she explained. "It's not necessarily how many mistakes that you make, it's how you recover from all those mistakes that you make."
Source: Read Full Article