After packing thousands of memories into 35 years as a football referee, Mark Windham is figuratively hanging up his cleats.

The Odessa businessman suffered a plantar fasciitis muscle injury on the bottom of his left foot in the last game of the 2018 season and it became a persistent problem. Like an athlete, Windham said he watched games on TV and saw that the other guys were younger. He said he’d also lost a step.

Windham got into refereeing through John Duncan, a friend who taught at Austin Elementary School. In the spring of 1986, Duncan came by Windham’s office and said he would pick Windham up at 5 p.m. and take him out to the stadium to work a scrimmage.

At first, Windham wasn’t interested and didn’t particularly like referees. Now they are some of his best friends.

He played football for Odessa High School and Lubbock Christian University and made all- district at center and his junior year he was an inside linebacker and team captain. At LCU, he was an outside linebacker on a team that he said wasn’t very good.

“I went out there and … I thought, well, this is kind of fun. It’s kind of like being on a team again; like playing again,” Windham said.

His first game was a six-man affair in Borden County.

“I’d never seen a six man game before. … That’s kind of how it started … The next year, I worked a lot of games and it … kind of became natural for me,” Windham said.

He worked a variety of refereeing positions starting out at the line of scrimmage; was a field judge; and a center judge.

Retired football referee Mark Windham poses for a photo following an interview Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, at his office in Downtown Odessa. Windham started out as a football referee in the 1980’s moving on to become an official for Division I college games including the 2009 Emerald Bowl and the 2015 Army Navy game. (Eli Hartman)

Along with high school and college, Windham has worked arena football, which he said made him a better referee.

Officials are graded on every game. By Tuesday, they would receive a grade back on every call they made — or didn’t make.

During games, he would trek 10 to 12 miles.

From 1986 to 2001, Windham worked high school games and started working some small college games in the early ‘90s through 2001 and worked four state championships in the state of Texas. The last one was San Antonio Taft against Mesquite.

“It was a 13-14 game in San Antonio. That was 2001. After that season, I … got picked up to work a few games in the Big 12. And from 2001 to 2005, I didn’t work a lot; worked two or three games a year. And then in 2006, I got picked up full time by Conference USA. And from 2006 to 2011, I worked in Conference USA and then from 2012 until last year, 2020, I was a Big East official, which turned into the American Athletic Conference. I was a field judge all those years. I worked numerous bowl games; worked the Army-Navy game in 2015, which was a great honor. I worked the American Championship game in 2017,” Windham said.

He added that in talking to the players, you find out where they’re going after the service academy and realize that football is just a small part of life in the larger picture.

He worked games with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson when he was at University of Louisville and Manti Te’o when he was at University of Notre Dame when they played Oklahoma.

He worked the 2009 Emerald Bowl with Boston College vs. USC.

He said he probably worked close to 200 Division 1 football games.

Windham officiated a game with now Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush in the Bahamas Bowl in 2014 when Rush played at Central Michigan University.

The game that sticks out most is the Army-Navy game and his favorite spot is Notre Dame.

“I remember the day I got the call from Terry McAulay. Terry was my supervisor in the Big East. … Terry was an NFL referee and worked three Super Bowls and Terry was just a great guy,” Windham said.

McAulay called Windham and said Windham had been assigned to the Army-Navy game. Tears came to his eyes.

The Notre Dame game was against BYU about 10 or 11 years ago.

“It was really a neat experience,” Windham said.

He added that they were treated “like gold.”

“One of the cool things is being from Odessa, a lot of times the coaches know who you are and where you’re from,” Windham said.

They asked him if he played at Permian High School and he told them he had worked their games.

“I worked a lot of Permian games coming up through the system. I worked Permian and Midland Lee two or three times, some of the great games in the mid-to-late 90s when they were both outstanding football teams,” he said.

He saw now-retired wide receiver Roy Williams play in high school.

Windham added that you could tell some players would make the pros such as Williams, Eric Winston and the late Cedric Benson.

Windham’s family has owned Howell & Windham Advertising, a promotional advertising company in Odessa serving the southwest region since 1952.

Retired football referee Mark Windham poses for a photo with his ring made in honor of his daughter Maci Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, at his office in Downtown Odessa. Windham’s daughter Maci passed away in September of 1994 due to cancer. (Eli Hartman)

Windham and his wife, Trisha, have two daughters, Brooke and Faith and a daughter, Maci, who they lost to cancer in September 1994. They have two grandchildren.

Maci died on a Saturday and the Windhams buried her on a Tuesday.

“Well, Thursday night after she passed, I went out and did a JV game,” Windham said.

He then worked a Midland High-Midland Lee game on that Friday.

“Somebody asked … ‘How did you do that?’ I said, ‘You know, it was time. … There wasn’t anything else I could do. It was time to move on.’ And I think football helped us all move on a little bit. … It took my mind off what had happened …,” and helped him move on and go back to work, Windham said.

He added that he wears an old nugget ring and used the diamond and dotted the “I” with it.

Longtime friend Phil Fouche thinks the world of Windham.

“From his loss, he is one of the nicest, kindest and professional people I know. From his and his wife’s loss, they have helped many people. I am a fan,” Fouche said. “He is just a good person and being a referee helped him work through his loss.”