Herman Vernon, a longtime fixture at the state track and field championships, received the gold medal equivalent for his unbending service to the sport on Friday morning.
Before a capacity crowd at the Signature Grand in Davie, Vernon was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Miami Herald’s All-Broward Athletic Awards.
“This award means a lot because I never expected this.” Vernon said. “Track and field is my passion. It has not been about me, it has been about the kids. I love what I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it so long.”
A broadcast engineer who traveled the world installing satellite equipment, Vernon, a Jamaican national, found his calling in life when he became a certified track official in Jamaica in 1972.
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Vernon, who is in his fifth year as Broward County Track and Field Officials Association president, moved to South Florida, where he eventually started officiating high school meets in 1992.
It didn’t take long for athletes, coaches and meet organizers to learn the high standards Vernon held himself and everybody else to.
Vernon developed a reputation for running a tight ship and would occasionally usher athletes to the side to reprimand them for not adhering to the sportsmanship credo he deemed pivotal to their growth.
“The first word that comes to my mind is integrity,” Vernon said. “Everybody knows where they stand with me. If you follow the rules, you won’t have a problem with me. There are two things I don’t put up with — one is rudeness and the other is disrespecting my officials.”
Although Vernon has forged a no-nonsense reputation, he keeps the working environment with his officials crew loose with his deadpan humor and storytelling.
Vernon points to the FHSAA requiring officials to get certified as one of the pivotal milestones during his tenure. Vernon said he hopes the next step would be to change the one year certification requirement to four years, which USA Track and Field Track officials adhere to.
“Certification is good for track and field,” Vernon said. “It forces people to learn everything about the sport.”
While officiating the Paralympics, MACA and Pan Am Juniors are significant milestone for Vernon, it is high school track and field Vernon holds closest to his heart.
Vernon said coaching the South Broward track club, which he founded, and serving as an assistant at Miramar High School has afforded him opportunities to have an impact on young lives he wouldn’t necessarily have as strictly an official.
One case Vernon cites involved a promising sprinter at Pines Middle School who, through Vernon’s intervention, survived an unstable family upbringing to become the Junior Olympics 110-meter hurdles champion and ultimately earn a college degree.
“Without track this young man wasn’t going anywhere,” Vernon said. “His family couldn’t afford college, yet he got his degree. From my coaching years, I helped to send many kids to university. I told them getting a college education is most important.”
Vernon said his passion for officiating burns as brightly as it did in his inaugural year, and he looks forwarding to implementing new changes as president of Broward officials.
“I made a vow five years ago when I took over the presidency that when I leave it will be a better association than when I joined it,” he said. “ I have done that. We have moved from just reading out the rules to the point where we can time a track meet entirely by ourselves. We are the only association in the state that can say that.”