15 Minutes — Never a dull game for the man in blue
May 19, 2003
Name: Jose “Poncho” Morales
Birthdate: Oct. 5, 1958. I was born and raised in New York City, in the Manhattan area.
Occupation: Custodian at South Tahoe Middle School and I officiate baseball and basketball games for South Lake Tahoe Parks and Recreation.
Family: My wife, Janel, and my children Jason, 22; Jessica, 21, Eddie, 15 and Joey, 5.
How long have you lived in South Lake Tahoe? Since 1986. I came here from Seattle, Wash., where I was stationed in the Army. Before that, I grew up in New York City. I’ve always known about Tahoe. As a kid we would come here for vacation all the time. My father loved this place. My father and mother would go gambling and my brother and I would go swimming. Some friends invited me down here and I wound up staying. My first job here was working as a disc jockey with Paul Middlebrook at KRLT and at Caesars as a cook.
What’s kept you in Tahoe? I wanted to build a family. This is the perfect town for a family. I feel my kids are safe.
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So what’s it like working around kids every day here at the middle school? These are 11- and 12-year-olds here. They’re kids with a lot going on, whether it’s at home or at school. On top of that their hormones are going every which way, so I’m either their big brother, their father or their most hated person. But all know that I’m there for them.
How long have you been at the ball fields and what’s kept you there? The love of the game. This is my seventh year and I’m telling you, it gets better each year. Especially the coed teams. They have the most fun. They’re not as serious as the Thursday and Friday night leagues, who sometimes forget that it’s just a game.
And you also officiate basketball in the winter. Which do you prefer? I like both sports, but I’d say my softball is my favorite to officiate.
So as an official, you’ve probably been called every name in the book and accused of every form of cheating: Oh yeah. I get “you like them better than us” a lot. I know they’re joking but sometimes after about three months of it, it can wear on you. You have to have turtle skin. But I think the players realize once they get in their season, that I really don’t care about the placement of the teams. If I make a bad call, I’m sorry, but I don’t mean to make a bad call. When the game is over I go home, I don’t think about it.
Is every game different or do they all blend together? Every night something happens. During the men’s league the other night, there were at least four plays at third base that could have gone either way, but the calls went against the same team, all four plays. It’s just the way it goes sometimes. At the end, they came up to me and said, “Do you have something against us?” and I’m like, “No. It’s just what happened. It’s the nature of the game.”
Have you seen any fights out on the field? Only one fight, about six years ago and it involved two umpires. This was back when we used to have two on the field.
Two umpires got into a fight? What happened? Like I said there were two, a younger guy and an older guy. The older one makes a call and the younger guy goes after him. It was bizarre. I was standing there getting ready to do the next game and I saw these two guys are yelling and cursing at each other and it’s going into blows. We finally stepped in and broke it up.
How about basketball? Any fights? Oh, yeah. In basketball, there’s always two guys going at it at some point. People would be amazed. If you come on some nights, you’d likely see two grown men who are supposed to be out there for exercise and a good time go at it by the end of the game. We’re talking about some of the nicest guys in the world, family guys or whatever. But when they get into the gym and start sweating, and the elbows start flying and the F words starts getting used, then the next thing you know they’re fighting.
Then what happens? I break it up and give them their technicals and tell the coaches not to let it happen again or they’re not playing the next week. They usually abide.
Which would your rather officiate, kids or the adults? The adults. Being around kids all day is is nice and all but the adult night league games I really look forward to at the end of the day.
What are your hobbies? I like video games, watching baseball or cartoons and being around my kids.
What have you learned about kids by working at the middle school? They’re all the same. They may be Mexican, Colombian, black and white but they are all the same inside.
What concerns you about the kids you see at school? The lack of parenting they get at home. The parents out there aren’t talking to their kids. There are parents out there who need to take a parenting test to be parents because they don’t know what’s going on in their kids’ lives. This is a really big concern I have.
What’s your strategy for living? Just to wake up. If I wake up in the morning and I’m alive, I know it’s going to be a good day.