Battlefields To Ballfields

Drive On Podcast
Battlefields To Ballfields
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Mike Pereira is the founder of the non-profit Battlefields to Ballfields, which helps veterans integrate back into society by providing veterans with skills to officiate sporting events from the high school level all the way through to college and pro levels.

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Transcript

Scott DeLuzio:    00:00:00    Thanks for tuning into the Drive On Podcast where we're focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community, whether you're a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or family member, on this podcast we'll share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio and now let's get on with the show. Welcome back to the Drive On Podcast. Today my guest is Mike Pereira. Mike is the founder of the nonprofit Battlefields2Ballfields, which helps veterans integrate back into society by providing veterans with skills to officiate sporting events from anywhere from the high school all the way up through the pro levels. So welcome to the show, Mike; why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself and your background for those of us who maybe haven't heard of you in the past?  

Mike Pereira:    00:00:50    Well, I'm just kind of one of those guys, that's a referee at heart. I've been involved in officiating really since 1970, when I was 20 years old and I started refereeing Pop Warner football games in East Palo Alto, California. And for some absurd reason, I fell in love with it. And so it became the passion of my life. I went from Pop Warner football to high school, freshman and junior varsity football. Then varsity football, then the small college, then to the major colleges in the west and what was called the Pacific Post Athletic Comp Association, which then became the Big West. And then eventually after 26 years of officiating on the amateur level got into the NFL and so those 26 years prepared me for the shock of officiating in the NFL game, which is a totally different beast.  

Mike Pereira:    00:01:48    The speed is like nothing you've ever seen really at every position. You know, you think about the NFL, you're those big lumbering, offensive linemen. Well, those big lumbering offensive linemen are fast. And so it's a unique challenge to officiate. So I did that for two years and I was doing some officiating administrative duties for the Western athletic conference and the league expanded their officiating department and they went through this whole process of interviewing people and they chose to hire me to be a supervisor of officials. So in 98, I went to the office, I did it through the 2009 season. And then I retired from the NFL to come west, back home to California and Fox reached out to me and said, Hey we're thinking about a new concept here, a rules analyst, somebody that can help educate the fans, they kind of thought it was going to be on the internet and not live on television  

Mike Pereira:    00:02:53    but that very first game that we had in 1998, there was a controversial call between Detroit and Chicago, Calvin Johnson in the end zone ruled an incomplete pass. If it was complete, Detroit would have won the game, but they left it as incomplete as I predicted that they would. And thus, my role was solidified that I'm more television than I am on the internet, but I'm an officiating junkie. I mean, I've been involved with it, like I said, since 1970; I mean, since, basically when I was 20 years old in 1970, so 51 some odd years. And maybe even before that, because my dad was an official, even before I became an official. So I went from there to where I am now, which is still doing it. I'm on Fox football coverage.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:03:47    Yeah. And It seems like it runs in the blood line with your father doing it as well. And it is an addictive kind of thing for some people. I don't want to say it's addictive, but it's something that you get passionate about. And a lot of people who are involved in it are very big, very passionate,  

Mike Pereira:    00:04:07    You know, here's the thing, it's the uniqueness of, I mean, I think that's what it is because you're doing something kind of similar to the military, but you're doing something that most people don't have the courage to do. And those that yell at the officials all the time, I always say the louder ones that yell the most. No, the least. And so when you're actually out there taking that criticism, I mean, you actually realize that you're unique, you have a strength, you have a strength to be able to take that. And I don't know, it's just weird because your best friends become officials. I mean, my best friends basically have all been involved in officiating in some form, and it's a fraternity and there are a lot of likenesses there when it comes to the military, but it's just really a family.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:05:00    Yeah. And I used to run the empire program for the little league in our town that I used to live in. And when you're talking about the people who are yelling at the officials, the umpires, referees, whatever the case may be, whatever the sport is, we have that all the way down at the little league level. And these were just a lot of times, they're just kids. They were, you know, 14, 15, 16 years old. And they were just kids who were out there doing their best calling balls and strikes and all that kind of stuff. And they got some calls wrong, that's just the nature of it but the parents and the coaches, they would get heated and I'd have to go and deal with it. And it's a strange phenomenon on the pro level, it's a little bit different, but it's the same idea. Like these are just people let them do their job.  

Mike Pereira:    00:05:55    You know, it's amazing to me because if you go back and look at it, it's gotten worse and worse and worse, this hostility toward the officials. And it's led us to where we are right now. I mean, 75% of the people that sign up to officiate quit after one or two years. And if you ask them why they quit, it's because of sportsmanship. And it starts at the lowest level. I mean, you take all these people surveys that have been done. You'd take all these surveys that say, what group drove you out, which was the worst. And you gave them players, coaches, administrators, parents. That was the one that led them to get out the most because you put a person who hasn’t officiated before, where did they start? They have to start at the youth level. So your confidence level is not that high in the first place.  

Mike Pereira:    00:06:43    And then you get these parents screaming at you, and it's almost like it's acceptable for them to do that. And when they do it at that very young age, like a little league, then their sons and daughters hear this, and then they think it's acceptable for them when they become parents. It needs to be reversed somehow. I don't know how we accomplished that, but officials, that's interesting. They make mistakes just like everybody else does, but they make probably a lesser percentage of mistakes, when you think about their overall work, but when you come to sports teams, offense, defense teams, I mean, a certain level of mistakes are tolerated, but when it comes to officiating, no mistakes are tolerated. So, it's exactly like the expected success rate or accuracy rate is 100%.  

Mike Pereira:    00:07:45    And in a game like football, where there's 22 players and at max there's eight officials to see everything is impossible. But then again, you can't get the layman to accept that. You can’t get them to accept that there's an impossibility there, nor can you get the layman and the parents to accept the fact that they are the number one cause or where we are right now, which is officiating around the country is struggling in numbers because people aren't signing up to officiate because of the abuse. So therefore the shortages are Countrywide. I mean, Countrywide and it's people would find out the hard way. I guess that there is no game without officials, and I don't think it'll ever get to that. But you're seeing it like football, for example, in Sacramento, where I live used to have six man high school crews, then they went to five and now they're down to four, in many cases for games, because there just aren't enough people. And that's a shame.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:08:55    Like you were saying before, even with eight officials watching the game, they're not going to get everything right. But when you now cut that number in half, and now you only have four, it's going to be even worse. And then the problem just kind of gets bigger and bigger, bigger, and it's a hard thing. I don't know how we solve that problem but one way is to have more officials and maybe some officials who have a little bit more of a backbone who can have a little more confidence even starting off level, you know? I'm imagining that this is going to lead into my next question. What about talking about the spark? What drove you to create Battlefields to Ballfields and was it this need for more officials on the ball fields or was there something else involved with that?  

Mike Pereira:    00:09:44    Scott, it was just a convergence of two thoughts. I mean, I had met some homeless veterans in Los Angeles and was very touched by the meeting that I had with them. And then shortly thereafter, I was driving to Oregon from California to see my good friend, Roger Ruth, and go fishing with him and played a little golf and I'm driving and thinking. And then I'm thinking about the shortage of officials and then I thought about my homeless veterans and what do I look for when I was at the NFL or in college for that matter? What did I look for in officials? I looked for courage. I looked for confidence. I looked for people on a mission with goals, teamwork, communication, and then I'm thinking, oh, wait a minute.  

Mike Pereira:    00:10:31    Now let's think about it. I didn't serve, but I know many, many veterans that have served and in the military, that's kind of all those traits that they have. And as you said, somebody that has a tougher backbone. So I said, man, could we marry the two together so that we could help address the issue of the shortage of officials and help our veterans give them something, give them a team. And that was the main thing for me, was to give them a team, let them be a part of a team again, that's on a mission that helps their communities. And so, as I drove and drove and drove, I'm thinking more and more about it. And I got kind of excited about it, and came up with a Battlefields2Ballfields naming California on my way up.  

Mike Pereira:    00:11:19    And then I told my friend, Roger, and then other people, they all thought it was a great and a unique idea. And so the foundation 501C3 stuff, and finally opened up, took the password off their site. And I'll tell you the one thing I've found out that there are a lot of veterans looking for things to do and because you eventually got flooded with scholarship applications and it was a thrill, but then also it was kind of overbearing because there were more applications than we were prepared to accept initially. And so we couldn't handle everybody, but they saw this, they felt like they saw it as an opportunity. And their big thing was because we asked them the question to tell us a little bit about themselves. Their big thing was being part of the team again and serving their community and working with kids.  

Mike Pereira:    00:12:19    And our foundation, we said it costs money to get involved in officiating because you have to buy all the equipment and the officiating uniforms and stuff up front and pay the local association dues, background checks, all this stuff. So our foundation put together a scholarship for beginning officials to where we cover all expenses for three years. We get their uniform, we pay all their dues that they have for whatever it is they need, we get them a national association of sports officials membership, which gives them extra liability insurance should in fact, the parents get really mad about a missed call and threaten to sue them or something like that. We want to cover all costs for three years and that's what we do. We're a small foundation, but we've given out over 400 scholarships in the four year period basically. And it's just been really touching in some cases, some who have admittedly have strong cases of PTSD have found this as an outlet. Certainly what we offer can never cure them, but what it can do is give them something to look forward to. And it's a sustained diversion from it because in many of the sports, you could work 3, 4, 5 games a week and pick up some extra money. So it's been terrific.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:13:51    Yeah. And that's great. I mean, the number of people that you've helped, you said 400 some odd people have gone through this program that you've helped out. And that's incredible. And that goes to show that there is a demand for this type of thing out there, not only in terms of needing officials to work the games, but also on the veterans side that there's people out there who are looking for this type of thing you know, and going through it is just going to be all the more helpful for them and their futures.  

Mike Pereira:    00:14:27    Yeah. You know, it's just been the one thing you look for, it's like that one trait that you think about, often not thought about, when it comes to officiating, but it is so necessary, is discipline because you have to discipline yourself, you have to discipline yourself to focus out, let that criticism not affect you and that discipline to stay in shape and that discipline to know the rules. And that's why I felt that veterans and actives, because we're doing actives now too, a lot of them are getting ready to transition out. And we want to give them something that they can transition out to and whatever community they go to, whether it's home or not, but something they could do that can help them make some extra money.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:15:20    Yeah, absolutely. And that's another great aspect, as well as having the athlete side, because they already have that intimate knowledge of the game and everything. So, that also helps. So let me ask, how does this work? So walk me through like a veteran who is someone who's getting out of the military and the process that they go through from, well, literally everything from the Battlefield to the Ballfield, like the name of the organization suggests. What's the whole process that they go through and signing up with your organization all the way to like the first game that they're officiating. 

Mike Pereira:    00:15:56   The process is really pretty simple. As far as the foundation, it's just for us to sign up. And that's usually sometimes the first step most of the time, the second step. Go to Battlefields2Ballfields.org, and you can apply for a scholarship and that comes to us and we basically don't do much background check ourselves. What we do is just verify that you're over 18 and verify that you're either in the service or you're a veteran of the service. And then you go to your local association in your local hometown area and you sign up with them. There's many ways to do it. You can just go online and say football, officiating, and Topeka, Kansas, and up will pop the local association and you can then sign up for it. Once you sign up for it,  

Mike Pereira:    00:16:55    we ask our veterans and active kids to pay the dues to the local association. That means they've joined. Then they send that receipt to us and reimbursed them, and then we get them their uniform, and then we get their ASL membership. And then they're in the hands of the local officiating program who does all the training. There are classes that they will have to go to before the season and then they'll get them prepared to officiate the first game. It's got the thing that's interesting to me when you go back to 1972 or whatever it was, or 73 to work. When I got into the high school association, I mean, it took me four years to work my first varsity high school football game. And then we're in such dire straits around the country right now with the shortages that first-year officials ended up working varsity football games in the first year in many, many cases.  

Mike Pereira:    00:17:51    And so they get to it right away and get the check; and the whole thing with us is, we want the check to go into their pocket and not have to pay for their uniform, not the paper, anything else. The second way is many, many veterans join a local association first, and then they apply for a scholarship, which again, as long as we verify their service, that's it, then they're good to go. And we take over from them. So the key, there's two ways to go about it. There's apply directly to Battlefields2Ballfields.org or to go to a local association and say, Hey, I want to join the local association. I want to become an official, whether it's volleyball, basketball, whatever and then you join these, then you send us an application and we take it over from there. So that's basically the process.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:18:51    Yeah. That's great because other people may not realize that there is a cost involved in some of the things, in terms of the uniforms and other equipment that they need.  

Mike Pereira:    00:19:03    You're going to be a baseball umpire. That's the expensive one, because you've got the shin guard, the two types of shoes you've got, you've got all that stuff that you got to pay for.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:19:12    And when I was doing it, we were just on the little league level, but we still made sure that they were dressed appropriately so that they look like officials so that they didn't look like they just came off the street wearing shorts and a t-shirt or whatever they were wearing, they actually look like they were real empires that you would pick off of a major league game. We made sure that they look the part because that's part of the perception too, from the parents who are in the stands or the coaches or players, if you have someone who doesn't look like they know what they're doing, then you're probably going to treat them like they don't know what they're doing, and when they look like they fit the apart, then you're going to be a little bit more likely to treat them with the respect that they deserve, which is unfortunate, but it is necessary.  

Mike Pereira:    00:20:01    You know, you're talking about first impressions. That's very important.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:20:04    Yeah, exactly and so a follow-up to the last question that I had there is, as far as who is this service available to, I'm assuming it's a available to all branches of services, but is there any other requirements other than having served in one of the branches of the military?  

Mike Pereira:    00:20:24    Just having served in any one of the branches, as long as you're 18 years old, I don't care if it's a Vietnam veteran. A Vietnam veteran who's my age wants to get involved. That's fantastic. There's not an age limit at all, when it comes to that. So as long as you can prove you served in any capacity in the service, then you're eligible.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:20:49    Awesome. And how about the sports that you work with? Is there any limit to the sports that you work with or is it open to any sports? I mean, pretty much everything needs some sort of official, right?  

Mike Pereira:    00:21:01    It's open to every sport. I don't really have access to training facilities, training areas for an MMA boxing ref, or even boxing at this point. But pretty much anyone after that, I mean, hockey, and track and field, volleyball, softball, baseball, basketball, men's, women's football. I mean, we'll find a way for most any sport.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:21:25    Yeah. And that's great too, because like someone who may have joined the military after playing in high school, they were in track and field or something like that. And that's where their passion is. That's where their interest is that they may not be interested in football or baseball or whatever. And so it's good to know that there's options out there for people and it's not just limited to any one sport. 

Mike Pereira:    00:21:48    The other thing, Scott, is that we have many, many veterans in our program who started in football and they really liked it and then they thought, you know what? I'd like to try umpiring too, so they can apply for a second scholarship and we'll give it to them. And we'll cover all sports. So we have some three sport officials now who just get into it and they see that they're part of another team. And then they see, Hey, I'm making some money. And if I keep doing other sports, I can make more money. And so we're happy to award somebody three scholarships. So long as it's the first year, you're just starting that sport. That's the only thing. If you've already done it for a year, you don't qualify. It's just for people that are starting in a particular sport.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:22:37    Right. And that's a kind of get your feet on the ground and get yourself into it without that financial involvement where you have to buy all the equipment and everything, because if you already have the equipment, then I guess in that case, the scholarship isn't really right there for you. That's a good point that you bring up too, because someone who may just do football games, that's a limited season, it's not a year round sport. And so you can get involved in baseball, which has a season that is a little bit longer or basketball, other winter sports, and other sports throughout the year. And that way you could make an income ongoing throughout the year by officiating these different sports. And that's a great thing to do.  

Mike Pereira:    00:23:28    Hey Scott, I started in 1970 doing Pop Warner football, in East Palo Alto. I got $10 a game, $10 a game, or I worked three games and got $30 cash. I thought it was a Bonanza. In Sacramento now you can work three games on a Sunday in the Sacramento area in football can earn $260, how times have changed. I mean, then it becomes in that case, I give up a Sunday watching me on television. If I could go make 260 bucks. I mean, you get a lot more for that than you'd get from hearing from me, what the heck a catch is or something like that.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:24:07    That's right. Well, we're not trying to turn people off from watching you on television either, but you're right. If you want to get out there and you want to be more active instead of just sitting on the couch and watching Mike on television, you can certainly do this type of stuff and officiate the games and make a little bit of money, pretty decent money as well for an afternoon of running around a sports field. There's a lot of veterans that you kinda touched on this before, but there's a lot of veterans who struggle with finding the comradery that they lost once they left the military service and so Battlefields2Ballfields helps those veterans find that sense of belonging, right. What you're saying, a lot of your friends are other people who were officials referees or whatever throughout their careers. That helps those veterans find that kind of connection, that comradery and that bond.  

Mike Pereira:    00:25:08    At the local association, we get them mentors. We encourage the local association to give them a mentor who is a veteran. I mean, that's a key thing because veterans understand each other a lot better than someone who's not a veteran. and that doesn't happen always but we try to get to that point where it's veteran on veteran.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:25:31    Yeah that's great too. And I found through doing this podcast, all the veterans that I talked to where we may be have never spoken to each other before, but we'll start a call just like we're doing right now, but between you and me, and we'll pick up just as if we knew each other for 10 or 15 years. And you're right, there is a common understanding and language that we use and just the way we talk and carry each other or ourselves, it just is much easier to jump into those kinds of conversations. So it's nice to know that there might be another veteran out there who can mentor you through the whole process, you know?  And part of the reason why just for the audience,  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:26:15    So part of the reason why I interview guests like Mike is because there's so many services out there that are geared towards helping veterans. And it might be overwhelming to try to comb through all of them on your own. But also a lot of them are not as widely known as some others. So I want to try to promote those types of services and those types of organizations to other veterans to help them and I've seen so many veterans say, oh, I've tried this program, that program, I've tried art therapy, I've tried all these different things and it just didn't work for me. And then they just give up on themselves. They come close to just giving up. And looking back at my military service, I don’t know too many times where just giving up is acceptable.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:27:02    You know, where it's okay to just quit on a mission. So it baffles me when I see so many vets reach out and reach that point where they perceive it to just be a dead end. So they just quit and we've talked before on this podcast about corporate career programs and maybe a corporate job isn't what is the right thing for you? Maybe you're looking for something a little bit more physical, something that involves maybe the youth in sports and things like that. There's nothing wrong with that either and so what Mike is offering here, in my mind anyway, is a unique program geared towards veterans who like to be active and involved in sports. And it's a different program than others that we've highlighted on this show, which is why I wanted to have Mike on and talk to him about the program and what it offers to veterans.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:27:53    I think it also goes to show that just because you think that you've tried everything, you're probably mistaken. You probably haven't tried everything. You know, there's a lot of things out there, and there's probably other programs out there that are tailored to you and your lifestyle as well. This is just another one of those that I wanted to highlight and talk about and bring it to people's attention to say, Hey, look, this is something else that's out there. You know? And hopefully from Mike's experience, he's probably seen some very good success with the veterans who've gone through the program, I’m imagining.  

Mike Pereira:    00:28:27    Success to me is the fact that when you look at the retention rate of, for example, an amateur sport right now, officiating, the retention rate is like 25%, 75% give up retention rate in Battlefields2Ballfields and our staff is like 80%. So it actually validates what you said about you don't give up, you don't give up. There's a lot of reasons why you quit. I mean, it could be that you move; it could be a job situation that doesn't give you the time but the retention rate is much greater because you don't give up.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:29:04    Exactly. Yeah. And I think having that background, that military background, that discipline, the self-confidence in being able to stand up for yourself or for your calls for the players on the field and being able to do what's right. Having the integrity to do what's right while you're out on the field. I just think that the qualities that veterans bring to this are just a perfect storm and it comes together so well with the officials that you need for these games and the qualities that the veterans have. It just is a perfect synergy. And I commend you for coming up with this idea. It's not something that I think I would have come up with on my own, but having been in that position, working in that field for so many years it just opened your eyes to what it is, what qualities that you need to have a successful official in these games. And it's just, I think, a great program and a great opportunity for a lot of veterans.  

Mike Pereira:    00:30:09    Well, I urge people that are listening to this podcast to apply,  veterans apply, and you can always go to meetings and find out if you like it, or you don't like it. If you don't like it, you don't have to do it because applying let's you get into the program and you will find out when you go to the meetings, if you like it or don't. But when you apply for a scholarship, how did you hear about us? We had asked that question, please put, Drive On because if you do, because I liked the Drive On hat so much, I'm looking Scott wearing, he's going to send me one of those. If you put down that you heard about us from Drive On, I'll send you a B2B hat, Battlefields2Ballfields for everyone that applies for a scholarship.  

Mike Pereira:    00:30:56    Also, we'll send one out to you. 

Scott DeLuzio: That's awesome. 

Mike Pereira:  It’s appreciation for hearing it on this program. And I hate to cut it a little bit short because I have to go to the airport, but it's programs like these that will make our foundation even more successful than it is. And almost a great way to ensure that you will, like this is, if you find another one of your buddies, get another one of your buddies and other veterans along with you to sign up so you can do it together, and sometimes going into a cold environment with people that you don't know is not fun, but going into an environment with a friend of yours into a group of people that you don't know is a lot more fun. So I would encourage you, but I'll even reorder more hats  

Mike Pereira:    00:31:47    so that I've got plenty if we get a lot of responses here, but it's programs like Scott’s that enable the word to get out about small things like ours. And we are small and we are out of California, but I think we're in approximately 38 states now around the country. So unless you live in London or somewhere you're pretty much assured to get accepted in our program. And then we would just love to have you remember now we will support you for three years. We'll support them for three years. So the first year we buy the uniforms and all the expenses, and then years two and three, we pay all the dues and all the registration stuff that's required after that. You want to fill in some stuff on your uniform, you can do that on your own, but we'll pay all those other costs. So we would just love to have help and have you, because it will give you something to do that's outdoors. In some cases, that's exercise and believe me, you'll be helping kids. You'll be helping kids. I mean, and that's the thing, you'll be a role model helping kids. And they may not like you when you make a call that goes against them. But I always say the thing to remember in officiating is the people that make the most noise, know the least when it comes to officiating.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:33:16    Yeah. And so I'm going to encourage all listeners to head on over to Battlefields2Ballfields.org, and sign up. We're going to try to get them into all 50 states and flood Mike’s inbox with all the applications that you can and make sure that he has to reorder some hats; be sure to mention Drive On in the signup field and get that application process started. So thank you again, Mike, for being on the show, it's been a pleasure speaking with you today. I really appreciate it.  All the links and everything that we talked about are going to be in the show notes. So anyone who needs that definitely check that out and click through there. We're going to try to get you more work than you can handle with all those applications.  

Mike Pereira:    00:34:05    And I will say this to thank you for what you do. This is fantastic. There's more people needed to do what you do to help our people.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:34:16    Excellent. Thank you. Thank you very much. And I really do appreciate your time and coming on the show to share your story and your organization. I really appreciate it.  

Mike Pereira:    00:34:24    You got it.  

Scott DeLuzio:    00:34:25    Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, DriveOnPodcast.com. We're also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at DriveOnPodcast.  

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