A new pilot program in Los Angeles founded by Fox Sports rules analyst and former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira is generating quite a bit of buzz in its first year. It’s called Battlefields to Ballfields, and the program places United States military veterans in the Los Angeles Officials Unit where veterans get a chance to learn the rules of officiating from experienced referees. The foundation pays for all the necessary equipment that an official needs such as a uniform, equipment, insurance, training, and provides invaluable mentorship.
Pereira said the goal is to take the nonprofit 501(c)(3) program nationally by year 2, and he is set to meet with basketball officials and veterans in New York, and continue the pilot in Columbus, Ohio, and San Antonio, Texas. On our Officially Speaking podcast, Pereira said, “These guys [veterans] have been part of a team before, and they’re disciplined, and they have those types of characteristics you need for officiating, and I think it’s going to be great for them and great for officiating.”
The Battlefields to Ballfields board of directors is a dynamic group that includes Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, National Association of Sports Officials president Barry Mano, and former US Army Green Beret and Seattle Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer.
Thomas Harris, 42, a sonar technician with the nuclear submarine force and United States Navy veteran is one of the pilot members who is taking part in this training. Harris graduated from Chatsworth High School in California’s San Fernando Valley and spent four years in the U.S. Navy in the 1990s. Of the program he said,
I never thought I would have any kind of lead to get involved with officiating but this opportunity fell in my lap. It’s a great, great opportunity for us as veterans in particular and it’s great to see there are people out there that care about the state of the veterans…This is just a tremendous opportunity and I’m grateful.
Nelson Bae, president of the Los Angeles Football Coaches Unit described this as a great opportunity for the community to give back to veterans in need, especially those who have come back from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan during the War on Terrorism. Eventually Bae said he would like to see the program grow to accommodate up to at least 3 dozen veterans in the next few years in his unit, and says the goal would be to see veterans officiating not just football, but all sports in their communities. According to Bae, the defining characteristic they look for in an official is the discipline veterans learn and maintain throughout the time in the military.
Pereira said the overall goal of his program is to provide returning veterans with a mission and a sense of feeling that they are part of a team again, which is something many of us lose and struggle to maintain.
The foundation is designed to veterans, men and women accustomed to being on a mission focused team who may be facing a difficult time reacclimating themselves to civilian life, and giving them a new team to be a part of on the field.
Pereira’s hope is that one day he’ll “have to buy a ticket at the college level or beyond” to see one his officials work a game.
Harris officiated his first game this season last weekend at Van Nuys High School. When Pereira asked him how he did, Harris responded “I almost puked.”