PEMBROKE – As an NFL referee, Brad Allen has what it takes to make the tough calls in front thousands of screaming fans, and even more watching at home.
“You have to be brave!” Allen said.
The “brave” theme was repeated as Allen addressed nearly 400 people packed inside the English E. Jones Center for the fourth annual Cash Bash athletic fundraiser at UNC-Pembroke on April 21.
Allen encouraged the audience to be brave in the face of adversity. A 1991 graduate of UNCP, Allen was the keynote speaker for this year’s Cash Bash.
“We must also be proud to be a (UNCP) Brave because of what this University embodies,” said Allen, a Lumberton native. “I want everybody to understand how proud I am of this university and this community.”
The 2016 Cash Bash raised more than $70,000 for the Braves Club general scholarship fund. To date, the annual event has generated more than $220,000 for student-athlete scholarships and the university’s 17 varsity athletic programs.
“Think about our student-athletes and what they go through with training and having proper nutrition and going to class and doing everything they need to do to be excellent athletes,” Allen said. “That’s why we have to support them.”
Director of Athletics Dick Christy said he is grateful to everyone who supports the University’s athletic programs through Cash Bash and other events.
“There is no quicker way to move our county and university forward, than making an investment in intercollegiate athletics and help make us a national brand,” Christy said. “We were so fortunate that Brad and his wife, Twilla, were willing to donate their time and efforts to support their alma mater. A record crowd and a record giving total are just a piece of the goodwill and great message that was communicated about the impact of athletics on this campus. #BraveNation really stepped up at this year’s Cash Bash.”
During the night, several items were sold during silent and live auctions, including tickets to a Duke basketball game, a basketball signed by UNC coach Roy Williams, and a NASCAR Las Vegas VIP Experience.
All proceeds help support more than 400 student-athletes, like Stuart Nadeau, a member of the wrestling team.
“Events like this give student-athletes opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have had,” said Nadeau, a senior from Hampstead. “When you are stuck working a job to pay for school and meals, it makes it really hard to focus on school and put extra time into your sport and excel in both.”
Cash Bash also brought former UNCP student-athletes like Horace Hunt back to campus. Hunt, 77, of Lumberton, earned a scholarship to play basketball and baseball for the Braves from 1957-59.
“Once you have experienced something like this, it’s mandatory to give back,” Hunt said. “I went through a toll recently in Washington, D.C., and when I got to the toll booth it was already paid. So at the next toll, I paid for the person behind me. That’s what we have to do here at UNCP – you have to pass it on.”
Allen has been around sports all of his life. His father, Greg, was a catcher for Pembroke State University in the 1960s and went on to play in the minor leagues.
Allen was 15 when he began umpiring Little League baseball games in 1986. He credits Leon Maynor, a veteran official, as one of his many mentors.
Maynor recalls that, as a youth, Allen showed poise and maturity beyond his years.
“He has always been very conscientious,” Maynor said. “He was a perfectionist and, even now, if anybody want to know a rule, they call Brad.”
“Everyone with the Southern Officials Association has been very proud of Brad,” Maynor said. “We knew from the beginning that he was going to be successful.”
Maynor said he can still count on Allen to umpire games in Robeson County.
“He is always accessible when we need him,” Maynor said. “I remember he called a college game in Boston on a Saturday night and that Monday he called a middle school game here. He loves the kids here in Robeson County and he has done a lot for this county in the way of youth sports.”
Allen said fate led him to enroll at UNC-Pembroke.
“It was probably in the stars that I would be an alumnus of UNC-Pembroke because my dad was a star baseball player here, my mom was the Homecoming queen one year, and I have a beautiful bride (Twilla,’98, ‘11) who has two degrees from here.”
Allen officiated baseball, basketball, and football games up to the high school level, even working NCHSAA championships in all three sports. He eventually focused solely on football, advancing from NCAA Division II South Atlantic Conference (SAC) to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) where he worked for nine seasons.
He called the 2007 Motor City Bowl, the 2009 International Bowl, the prestigious Rose Bowl in 2012 and the 2014 Sugar Bowl. During the offseason, Allen is busy at his full-time job as executive director of the N.C. Senior Games. He also serves as clinic leader and booking supervisor for the Southern Officials Association.
On March 21, 2014, Allen received a phone call from Dean Blandino, vice president of officiating for the NFL.
“He said, ‘Brad, I want you to come work for me on Sundays,’” Allen said.
Allen was the first official to jump straight into the referee position in his first NFL season since Tommy Bell in 1962.
“You have to be brave in order to go in front of a group of men who have multiple Super Bowl (experience), and stand in front of them and say, ‘I am going to be your leader,” Allen said. “But the NFL, in its wisdom, gave me a crew that was absolutely fantastic.”
Ellen McGill, women’s head volleyball coach at UNCP, attended the Cash Bash along with dozens of student athletes.
“It’s awesome to have the support of the community and to see the passion that everyone has for this university,” McGill said. “Events like this are really vital to the success of our athletic programs, so we truly appreciate the support from the community for all of our sports.”
Allen continues to give back to the University by sharing his experience to current students. In October, he spoke to Mike Parnell’s class in Sports Officiating.
“I love this university,” Allen said. “I love its culture and its history and, through Changing Lives Through Education, we are going to continue to be ‘BRAVE!’”
“One day, I want my daughter to come to this university and continue our family’s tradition. Maybe she will be a student-athlete like my dad was,” Allen said. “Maybe she will be the first female to wear a white hat in the NFL. No matter which way it is, we will always be proud to be a Brave!”
Mark Locklear is the public communications specialist for UNCP.