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Lo Van Pham

Lo Van Pham is an NFL football official from Amarillo, TX who was born in Pakse, Laos.  Lo has officiated at all levels of the game from pee-wee football to the Big XII college conference. Just prior to the NFL Lo was an official in the USFL.

Lo Van Pham

The Art of Officiating

Lo Van Pham was born in Pakse, Laos, in 1973 where his family had settled after fleeing the fighting in South Vietnam.  Pakse is home to a large ethnic Vietnamese community to this day. As the war spread to Laos and the government collapsed, they fled across the Mekong River into Thailand.  After spending time in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines.  The family was sponsored by Catholic Family Services and resettled in Amarillo, TX when Lo was seven.

Amarillo became a primary resettlement location for refugees due to the abundance of jobs, low-cost housing and supportive local community.  The new arrivals from Laos and Vietnam concentrated in the Eastridge neighborhood on the city’s northeast side.  Eastridge was in close proximity to the Iowa Beef Processing (IBP) plant and Levi Strauss factory where Lo’ parents and many of the other refugees worked including the grandparents of swimmer Angelina Messina.

Lo was introduced to sports during childhood and played football at Palo Duro High School but lacked the size to paly at the collegiate level.  He obtained a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Texas Tech University before moving to Colorado to pursue a Master’s degree in structural engineering. Lo was active in intermural sports during his college years but after graduating and moving into the workforce he stopped competing. “I was bored, I needed to be on the field somewhere”, said Lo Van Pham. Desperate to get back on the field Lo spotted an add for pee-wee football officials that would change the trajectory of his life.  “I didn’t even know they paid”, Lo said.  

After moving back to Amarillo Lo began officiating at the high school level.  High School football is part of the culture in West Texas and officiating is taken very seriously.  The book and later a movie, Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream, by H.G. Bissinger opens up with a game between Odessa-Permian High School and Lo’s alma matter, Palo Duro.  The intensity of officiating in West Texas prepared Lo to move onto the college level he began officiating games for the NCAA D2 Lone Star Conference in 2006 which includes West Texas A&M University in near by Canyon, TX.  

From there Lo’s officiating career took off.  He moved in the NCAA division 1 level officiating in conferences like the Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West before moving into the Big 12 in 2015.  His collegiate assignments included some of the biggest games in college football including bowl games, conference championships and the 2022 East-West Shrine game.  He was even the official in the 2021 Mountain West conference championship game where Lao-American AJ Vongphacchanh and the Utah State Aggies defeated the San Diego State Aztecs 46-13.  Lo accomplished all of this while holding down a full-time job as a project manager for a construction and engineering firm in Amarillo.


In 2019 Lo was one of 39 officials selected to join the National Football (NFL) officiating development program and with the resurrection of the United Stated Football League (USFL) in 2022 Lo joined the inaugural officiating staff.    He made major headlines in May of 2022 when the NFL announced that Lo would be joining their ranks as a side judge making Lo the first Asian American NFL official.  His story garnered extensive media coverage with Lo making an appearance on the Today Show

Lo resides in Amarillo, TX, with his wife Kelley and their two children.  He still has family living in Pakse, Laos.   

Photos by Scott Thomas

About this Article

Information for this article came from our interview with Lo on the SEA4 Podcast. Photos are courtesy of Lo Van Pham, Scott Thomas and  Pat Ward

Last Updated: August 28, 2022

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