Steve DePriest

This feature story appeared on Page 1 of The Birmingham (Alabama) News on Dec. 3, 1999.

2A title game signals victory for referee without hands

By Ed Odeven
News staff writer

DOTHAN — Steve DePriest won’t let his physical limitations stop him from doing what he loves: raising dragsters and officiating high school football games.

He is undeterred because he realizes that, even without hands, he isn’t as disabled as some other people he has met.

“The best thing that happened was where they sent me after my accident — UAB (hospital),” said DePriest, who had to have his hands amputated following an on-the-job accident in 1989. “Because, as I walked around up there, you could see people that were in worse shape than I was.

“I thought, ‘You can sit around and feel sorry for yourself, but you are still going to be disabled. You just got to carry on with life and do the best you can.’ ”

DePriest’s best has been good enough to earn him a spot officiating in today’s Super 6 high school football championships at Legion Field. DePriest, a back judge who lives in Dothan, will work the 2A title game between Southern Chocktaw High School and Lineville High School at 3:30 p.m.

“It’s a big honor to get to go to the Super 6,” DePriest said. “That’s why you call (games) year after year — to get to go to the Super 6.

While he devotes Friday nights to one passion, he devotes Saturday nights to the other — drag racing. He races his 1972 Chevy Camaro at speeds over 100 mph down the one-eighth mile stretch of One Way Dragway in Cottonwood.

“You get a big rush out of it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s addictive,” he said.

DePriest overcame an occupational accident that occurred Feb. 17, 1989. He was employed as an electrical lineman for the City of Dothan, working on power lines.

On that day, electricity zapped his hands, causing severe electrical burns.

“I was working on a de-energized line that was grounded and the boom in the truck came in contact with a hot conductor and energized the control handle on the truck,” DePriest, 43, said. “When I grabbed the handle … (the electricity) went in my right hand and out my left hand.”

He was flown by helicopter to University Hospital. Two days later, his hands and forearms were amputated. He now uses prosthetics with hooks.

He is not bitter. “Life gives you lemons. You have to make lemonade,” he said.

DePriest’s wife, Denice, said the lifestyle of their family, which includes 12- and 14-year-old daughters, hasn’t changed drastically. “We just make the best of everything,” she said.

Still, right after the accident, DePriest struggled to become self-sufficient.

“One of my goals was to pack a suitcase and go somewhere overnight by myself and not have somebody to be with me, so I could get dressed, shower, shave,” he said. “And I can do that.”

DePriest took a year off from officiating after the accident. When he returned, he spent three years working as a clock operator before rejoining the regular crew.

He got support from fellow officials, he said. “They said as soon as I wanted to come back that they wanted me to get back on the field,” he said.

DePriest had to relearn how to do signals and motions and how to handle his flag and whistle. “I’ve worked on it here at home … It took a lot of practice.”

Greg Brewer, an administrative assistant with the Alabama High School Athletic Association, said DePriest has received stellar evaluations.

Doyle Stevenson, a referee with the Southeast Alabama Football Officials Association, said DePriest is top notch.

“He’s an extremely hard-working guy,” Stevenson said. “He hustles well. He doesn’t let his handicap slow him down. I think he realizes he was selected for his ability, not his handicap.”