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Battlefields to Ballfields: Helping veterans serve as youth sports referees

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New NFL referee Shannon Eastin
Philly sports
New NFL referee Shannon Eastin

The Battlefields to Ballfields program aims to help veterans officiate sports in order to give them what many have missed while on duty: a team and a purpose.

A new program is training veterans to serve as referees in youth sports. 

The theory? The demands of combat and the demands of parents, players and coaches in the midst of a game can be similar in some ways.  

NFL rules expert, Mike Periera is behind the  initiative: 

"The fact that when they are on a mission, they are part of a team. And they are on a team that depend on each other and work with each other and they have goals," said Periera. "To me that's exactly the same as what officiating is."

Mike Periera joined Take Two's A Martinez with more on the Battlefields to Ballfields program. 

On why he cares about this project so much

I didn't serve. I was the product of the lottery back when I was going to college where everybody got a lottery number based on their birth date on the drawing. And I by happenstance got a high number and didn't have to serve. But certainly my father served and others around me served ... When this whole thing came from my mind, I felt like it was an opportunity for me to give back.

On what his program is providing veterans who enroll

They get the uniforms, they get all the equipment, we enroll them and pay for the dues in their local association. We pay for a mentor who will work with them. We set insurance for them so they're protected if they get hurt on the field and then we're gonna provide counselling services for whatever they might need. It's not a one and done. We will follow them and continue to pay for their dues and any other equipment they may need for a minimum of three years so we can track their progress.

On why there's a shortage of referees for youth sports and how veterans can fill the void

Because it's hard to take the abuse. And I could understand that. We all call it recruiting and retention and which is more important. It might be that you can recruit, but it's hard to retain because of that issue. Thomas Harris [a veteran in Southern California enrolled in the program] said, 'You think I'm gonna be affected by some parent yelling at me? ... When I was in the service, I was yelled at so much for no good reason, especially in boot camp. This is not gonna bother me whatsoever!'

On what he gets out of organizing this program

While I love my job at Fox, it's meaningless compared to this. If I can have some impact with some struggling vets and also help impact the number of officials that are needed to officiate games, then I really feel like I've accomplished something. But all I've got to do is look into the eyes of Thomas Harris, who's now working some high school football... and see that look that I believe that he probably had when he was on a submarine. All I have to do is look at that and I get a sense that maybe we can make a difference in somebody's life. And maybe we can make a difference in somebody's life who deserves the opportunity to do something like this.

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above

To learn more about Mike Periera's experience as an NFL official, you can read his book 'Under Further Review: Inside the Infamous, Controversial, and Unforgettable Calls That Changed the NFL

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