Purdy: Television's refereeing voice reaches out to soldiers in a worthy mission
The idea is to match vets with officiating whistles--and it just might work
(Sports columnist Mark Purdy has challenge himself to write 10 columns in 10 hours on March 10. This is one of those columns.)
The idea came to Mike Pereira.while he was driving from his home in Sacramento to a friend’s home in Oregon. You might know Pereira as the former NFL zebra and vice-president of officiating who now explains rules to viewers on Fox network broadcasts. But in this case, he was just a guy behind the wheel with time on his hands.
“I drive by myself,” he said by phone this week. “Six and a half hours. I turn off the radio. I was thinking about my life, about the military guys, although I never served myself, thinking about the struggles some of those guys have, how I might be able to serve them. And I was thinking about the struggles that officials are having today, the declining numbers of people signing up to referee and officiate games. In some parts of the country, schools can’t even field jayvee football teams because they don’t have enough officials to work the game. Then I thought how people will ask me about what makes a good officlal. I always say it’s focus, lack of fear, being a team player.”
That’s when the light bulb went off.
“It seemed like a perfect fit,” Pereira said.
The idea evolved from there. Maybe Pereira could help vets looking for some fulfillment in a new area as well as help fill the gap in officials. After reaching out and consulting with friends on both sides of the equation, Periera has unspooled the “Battlefields To Ballfields” foundation, an organization that aims to recruit service veterans into the officiating community.
Pereira, a Santa Clara University graduate, came up with the name himself. It’s a clever name. But far more important are the people he found to make things happen. They include Nate Boyer and Pat Goudout, two men who have background in working with vets. They ran a pilot program in Los Angeles last football season.
“They had six people who got involved,” Pereira said. “I think they enjoyed it I’m not sure how many will stick with it. Maybe 50 percent. That’s pretty gooed. One of them was a star. He took to it and improved so much over the course of the season.”
The next step was getting up a website — https://www.battlefields2ballfields.org/ — and trying to get some publicity. It’s working. After just one week, 28 vets have applied. They are matched up with mentors in each city who help them learn the ropes and guide them through the process of being certified to officiate at the junior high and high school level. College? Maybe one day.
“A realistic goal for this fall is 50 vets,” Pereira said. “That’s 50 around the country. We’re not going to get 300 off the bat. Our goal is to get to 100 in a few years. We’ve had people apply from New Hampshire to California. They either saw it on Facebook or saw a story on a website. The Army is helping us publicize it, too.”
I wondered why Pereira thinks the officiating pool has diminished so much. He had no problem with a quick answer.
“I think it’s the abuse,” Pereira. “It’s always been there. But. I think the abuse has gotten louder because of social media. You could point to people like me , I suppose, and say I’m on TV criticizing them. But I’m really not. I’ve never used harsh wordage like ‘blown call.’ I just try to explain the rules and why the rulings were made and what the officials are looking at. Abuse is different. It’s a serious issue, the decline in numbers. And you ought to see what the average age is now of officials even in the college conferences. We’re talking about 50 years is the average age.”
Plugging the gap with seasoned military men who love sports could indeed be a smart solution.
“After what a lot of them have been through, do you think they’re going to be intimidated by a high school coach or even the fans? I don’t think so at all. The fear factor is a long gone factor for them. That’s part of the fit. If you look at the applications, most of them obviously went into the service out of high school. But they played the game, usually. And this gives them the feel for getting back into it. ”
Pereira isn’t looking to supply the Super Bowl officiating crew of 2032. He just wants to see where it goes and see satisfaction on all sides.
“My ultimate goal is to have to pay to go watch some of these guys work a game,” Pereira said. “And that’s in all sports. We’d love to see guys do multiple sports — basketball or hockey or whatever. If you catch the bug, it is the most enjoyable thing you can do in a week. ”
In the football offseason, meanwihle, Pereira plans to sit back and relax and watch the basketball officials. He will host the crews who work the NCAA early-round games in Sacramento next week, help them find their way around town and provide restaurant recommendations. Then more work with the foundation.
“This has really got my juices flowing,” Pereira said. “You should go to the website. It’s got some really cool interviews and stuff.”
And, I am guessing, the sound of a whistle.