1st Battlefields to Ballfields Scholarship Recipient - Thomas Harris
By Rick Jaffe
Thomas Harris served in the Navy for four years. He’s been officiating about for about four weeks and while one can truly appreciate the work he did on nuclear submarines, Harris now has a greater respect for the men and women who wear the striped shirts.
"I almost puked,’’ Harris said when remembering his first time officiating. "When I went out there the first time it was very stressful, because if I'm doing something I want to make sure I'm doing it right, so I put extra pressure on myself."
With a sky as blue as the Pacific Ocean and the sun as hot as a Southern California wildfire, Harris made his second appearance as an official during a junior varsity game at Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles on Friday, Sept. 30, as part of the pilot program of Mike Pereira’s Battlefields to Ballfields.
"The goal is to get vets on the field, to get them after they’ve returned from their tours of duty and get them on the field to become part of this team," said Pereira who attended the game.
"The pilot program that we're running now in Los Angeles could not have been done the way it's being done without a gentleman named Nelson Bae, who has gripped the mission of getting some vets on the field and getting them involved in officiating."
Bae, who is the President of the California Football Officials Association of the LA City unit, was also part of the officiating crew on this day, said helping was a no-brainer.
"Ultimately, the reality of it is, everyone across the world of officiating, whether it be football, basketball, what have you, is hurting for officials,’’ Bae said. "Let's be honest, we can't have games without officials. With the numbers down, every officiating unit across Southern California is looking to see how do we recruit more officials.
"Battlefields to Ballfields is giving us a set number of applicants that, it's a slam dunk. You have vets who are used to stressful situations, who are disciplined, who look good physically and so, this is easy," Bae continued. "It's a feeder program right into the initiating ranks and we're killing two birds with one stone here."
Harris, who had three kids of his own, has been a Sunday School teacher and has always enjoyed working with kids, but didn’t picture himself being on the half-grass, half-dirt field, officiating a football game at Van Nuys High School, where the cheerleaders outnumbered the crowd.
"I would have never imagined that I would get into officiating,’’ Harris said. "I’ve watched many games as an official on my couch, making all of these calls. I'm a fan, spectator."
But this was no day at the beach, though a person might have made a fortune selling sun tan lotion.
"To be on this side of it, I have a greater deal of respect for officials and what they have to deal with, because it's pretty crazy, it's wild," said a thankful Harris.
Harris has called a few penalties in his first few games, and yes, he’s already been yelled at by coaches.
"I was in the military, so getting yelled at was no big deal," said Harris. "Once the coaches know you’re new, they yell to try and put pressure on you so they’ll get some calls."
One of the uniting factors of these veterans and B2B is camaraderie and that’s what many of these vets say they miss most about being in the military.
"You meet some really great people from all over the country and it's a brotherhood that's there," said Harris. "When you are separated from that, you miss that. I'll have stories until the day I die about my military experience. That's how much it meant to me and it's a rare thing for people to have that kind of experience. If you're not in sports, the military is the other thing that gives you that sense of community and brotherhood."
Pereira’s smile, almost as wide as the 405 freeway in LA, was encouraged by Harris’ performance.
"I see a guy that's never officiated before, but it reminds me of myself when I first stepped on the field. I didn't understand the nuances, but the fact that he’s putting himself out on the line here, that’s a great thing," Pereira said.
"The courage, the commitment, the discipline. He has a lot to learn, as every first-year official does, and every second-year official still does, but I would say that I'm really encouraged by what I saw."