Since 2006, Vince and Bonita Holmes of Wellington have had a series of unique “date nights” every Friday night in the fall. Those “dates” have been associated with showing up at high school football games around Palm Beach County.
It’s not because they have a child on a high school football team, on a cheerleading squad or in the marching band. Instead, they are part of the same East Coast Football Officials Association (ECFOA) officiating crew. Vince is the referee, which is the only game official who wears the white hat, while Bonita sits in the press box, where she works as the all-important clock operator. Both wear black and white striped shirts.
In a nutshell, Vince is in charge of indicating when the game clock must start and stop, while Bonita is in charge of actually turning the game clock on or off throughout the game. In this role, she never takes her eyes off her husband. When Vince or any other game official crosses their arms above their head, Bonita stops the game clock.
She also stops the clock after every incomplete pass, after a score is made, after a turnover, during a time-out, while an injured player is getting medical attention, when the ball carrier goes out of bounds and after a missed field goal attempt. Clearly, Bonita needs to pay attention to the action on the football field.
Vince and Bonita are the only husband-and-wife team that are members of the ECFOA, which provides game officials for high school football games in Palm Beach County.
Even though Bonita never played football, Vince feels his wife is one of the best clock operators in Florida because she understands the flow of a football game.
“When she’s in the press box, she’s focused, she knows the signals from the officials, she pays attention and she’s on point,” he said. “She also accurately changes the down and distance figures on every play.”
Vince loves football, dating back to his days as a high school defensive back growing up in Tallahassee. It was Bonita’s idea to join him as an official on Friday nights. She loves the Friday night football atmosphere in Palm Beach County.
“For us, it’s a fun Friday night of family and football,” said Bonita, who is graduate of Glades Central High School (1984) and the University of Florida (1989). “Then we go out to dinner after the games.”
Because of the current shortage of game officials, many local high school football games are also being played on Thursday nights, which represents another “date night” opportunity for Vince and Bonita. There are also freshmen and junior varsity football games during the week, which Bonita tends to work as well. Vince does not. Instead, he dedicates more time during the season to training and recruiting more officials.
“There’s a nationwide shortage of officials, especially in Palm Beach County, which is why we can’t have every high school football game on a Friday night,” explained Vince, who graduated from Florida A&M University with a degree in criminal justice and is now a retired federal government employee. “Anybody interested in becoming a football official should check out www.ecfoa.com for details.”
Vince takes great pride in his job as a football official.
“I take my role as a game official seriously because the players deserve to have a well-officiated game, since they work hard in practice during the week,” he said.
Vince, who has officiated two high school state championship games in his career, can quickly recall some of his most satisfying moments on the sidelines.
“A few years ago, I was the referee for a playoff game between Miami Northwestern and Miami Central,” Vince said. “Northwestern won the game, but the Miami Central head coach complemented our crew for officiating a fine game. That means a great deal when you get praise from the losing coach. That has been the highlight of my career as an official.”
Other great memories for Vince and Bonita are connected with working the annual Muck Bowl game between Glades Central High School and Pahokee High School.
“We’ve worked a number of Muck Bowls,” Vince said. “Those are great games with a great atmosphere.”
As the 2023 football season approaches, Vince is getting mentally and physically ready for the games, which start in August.
“Our officials association has started our pre-season meetings,” he said. “Meanwhile, I’m outside walking and riding my bike so my body is ready to go in August.”
Vince and Bonita are forever in pursuit of the best game that they can have as officials.
“I was once told that the best game that you can have is the one where you walk off the field at the end and nobody knew that you were there,” Vince said.
His wife nodded in agreement.
“We are looking forward to more fun Friday nights of football and family this fall,” Bonita added.