Former NFL referee is making the right call for veterans
Former NFL official Mike Pereira created Battlefields to Ballfields to give veterans the resources and opportunity to be sports officials, helping them get their lives back on track.
MIKE PEREIRA: I make a habit, every summer, of driving back and forth to Oregon. Five years ago, I was driving up and I was thinking about some veterans that I'd just met who were really struggling.
- I was at a point where I was very frustrated. I was very depressed in the sense that nothing seemed to be working.
MIKE PEREIRA: And then I started thinking about the passion of my life, which is officiating, and I thought about the shortage of officiating. I thought about the lack of things that are available for veterans to do when they return.
- When you get out, you're on your own. I still felt lonely. I had nothing else. Getting a call from Mike Pereira, it gave me hope. It inspired me to say, you know, I could do this.
MIKE PEREIRA: And I thought, man, could we marry the two? This actually could be a great combination.
- You're actually giving back to your community, back into civilian life.
MIKE PEREIRA: They could earn some extra money along with finding a purpose, finding a way to serve again, which they all talked to me about, wanting to serve again.
It became my mission to serve. I wanted to make a difference if I could. It was a chance for me to maybe leave this place a little bit better than it was when I first got into it and help those that need the help, the veterans, to get involved. Start a foundation that I could pay all of the expenses for veterans to get involved in officiating.
JIMMY DEBELL: I've been officiating over 35 years, professionally over 15, and it's a passion of mine. I just love doing it.
How do I get involved? How do I help you? And he goes, well, if there was ever anyone that gets involved with Battlefields to Ballfields, I'll use you as a contact.
JAMAISON PILGREEN: I went nine months, day after day after day, applying for jobs. This came along and it gave me purpose. It gave me something to look forward to and it led me to stop focusing on not being productive. And as soon as the football season started, it was within four months of that, I actually found my first job.
HECTOR TARANGO: I suffer from severe PTSD and it was real hard for me even to come outside or do anything. I hadn't seen my oldest son, 19. Being in the service, being gone, I didn't see him for a good five years. You know, divorce gets ugly and all that, but he was told that I abandoned him, I left him, and that I died at war. It just got ugly.
Then another brother of arms by the name of Rodriguez came up, called me, goes hey, let's try this B to B. I'm like, I'm not doing no B to B. I don't even know what that is. He goes, it's Battlefields to Ballfields. It'll get you outside. You'll learn the game under different aspects to help your son so when he comes to live with you. Meanwhile, all I could do was pray that my son would wake up and one day come live with me.
It took me three years to find my son. He was in northern California. By time I found him, he was already a freshman in high school. So by him playing football, I thought man, maybe I could become a ref. I could get in that organization and I could ref his game, and I'll be able to see my son. It gave me hope.
And then, when my son decides, you know, when he wakes up and sees the truth that I did not abandon him, I did not leave him. I love my-- every parent loves their kid-- That he can see that I can help him. Son, these are the things that refs look at. Don't hold. Don't push. You can only touch from this-- Little things, coaching him as a ref's perspective. I just felt that that would bring me closer to my son.
And now my son goes to Pueblo University in Colorado. He plays college football there. My ultimate goal is now I want to ref college, you know? (LAUGHS)
MIKE PEREIRA: This is a sustained diversion. So it's a diversion from those other problems that they've had, and I think that's made the difference in our foundation.
JAMAISON PILGREEN: I don't know where I'd be. I don't know if I'd be here, actually.
JIMMY DEBELL: I can't thank Mike Pereira enough for having me involved in it.
HECTOR TARANGO: It's helped me save my life. It's helped me be a better father, better husband.
MIKE PEREIRA: And when I hear those stories, it makes us working in this foundation feel like we made a difference in people's lives.