Padecky: 'Nice way to go out' for legendary football official

PETALUMA

After 38 years, after the 1,300 football games he estimated he’s officiated, after being an instructor, a mentor, a confidant, of being a strong and steady beam to guide his crews through the emotions and rules of football, Pete Dardis has earned and will receive his just reward for being a stellar example of doing it the right way over five decades.
It took a little time, however, to coax out of Dardis the nature of his prize Tuesday. Initially the Petaluma resident would say just this: He was told Oct. 12 he will be a referee at one of the five upcoming CIF state championship football games in Carson. Pete, do you know which one? Yes. Which one? He shrugged. I pursued.

Will it be the Division 2 final? Nope. Division 3 final? Nope. How about Division 1? That would be a plum. Nope. I was running out of options. Dardis finally put me out of my misery.

“It’ll be the Open Game,” Dardis finally said quietly. The Open Game? The Open Division Championship will be played between the two best high school football teams in the state of California. That means, as referee — the guy with the white hat — Dardis will be the lead official, the go-to guy, in California’s biggest schoolboy football game.

I believe the man actually blushed when I phrased it that way.

“It’s a nice way to go out,” said Dardis, a man who also knows a thing or two about the compelling nature of the understatement. He’s 70 and the state final will be his last game on the field. To say “it’s a nice way to go out” would have been like Denver’s John Elway saying “it was a nice way to go out” after he won his second Super Bowl. The sentence doesn’t quite match the significance of the event.

“I’m just a humble guy,” Dardis said.
To point: It was one of Dardis’ officials who alerted The Press Democrat to the man receiving the honor of working a state championship game.

Dardis can afford to be humble because his resume does all the bragging. As president of the North Bay Officials Association, Dardis has been assigning officials for the last 18 years; between 75-85 guys await his word each week. It’s been 26 years since Dardis last manned an on-field official position other than referee, so respected is he for his cool under fire and his knowledge and quick application of the rules. Dardis runs a high school officials camp at Fresno State each summer that has attracted officials from the NCAA and the NFL as instructors. And student officials come from as far away as Mississippi.
In other words, you could do a lot worse than Pete Dardis.

“It was overwhelming when I found out,” Dardis said. “Just to be recognized to go to state is enough. And then on top of that …”
Yes, a humble man would find it difficult to complete that sentence. Not bad for a guy who almost quit after his first game.
At a Petaluma Boys Club youth game in 1974, Dardis volunteered to officiate because no one else would. His two sons, Ron and Rick, were playing and so became an involved parent, his vision no further than that.

“In the parking lot after that game,” Dardis said, “a parent confronted me and said, ‘That was the worst officiated game I have ever seen! You need to quit right now!’”

Dardis, of course, was discouraged because he was only one game into his career. He came home that night and told his wife, Judy, “This isn’t for me. I’m quitting.”
But to Judy’s credit and to the ever-lasting appreciation of hundreds of officials since, she told her husband, “No, you’re not. We’d just paid $200 for all this official’s clothing.’”

Thus began a memorable ride for a guy who became more than an involved parent. It was an education he received, and is still receiving, on human nature.

“That very first year at a youth game,” Dardis said, “a coach came up to me before the game and said, ‘I’m glad you’re here. The crew last week was the worst I have ever seen.’”
Dardis was thankful to hear that — until the first quarter of the game.

“You’re a terrible, awful official!” the coach screamed at Dardis from the sidelines.
So yes, Dardis quickly developed a thick skin, an attribute he would pass along to any official.

“Don’t overreact,” said Dardis, who moved to Petaluma in 1970.
Appreciate the light moments when they come.
When Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin was playing quarterback for Piner, Cronin threw a touchdown pass and remarked to Dardis, standing nearby, on how well his offensive linemen protected him.

“Do you think I should take them out to dinner?” Cronin asked Dardis.
“Sure, why not?” replied Dardis, a retired bank officer with Bank of America.
“Do you think Burger King is OK?” Cronin said through a smile.

Don’t let your ego get in the way of the game.

“At one time,” Dardis said, “the referee got five dollars more than the other guys. Our association changed that. Every official gets the same money. It promotes unity among the crew.”
So each official gets $40 for working a junior varsity game, $80 for the varsity.
Be receptive to the coaches.
“If a coach tells me he doesn’t want a particular official on any of his games that season,” Dardis said, “I will make sure that doesn’t happen. In fact, I’ll keep that official away from that coach for two years. You don’t want to put him in the position that he’s not wanted because it’ll affect how both the coach and official will handle the game.”

Listen to a coach but don’t turn away from the game to do so. Grant coaches a voice but do not grant them abuse; a thrown clipboard on the field is an unsportsmanlike penalty. Never argue with a coach; no one wins and in the process both of you will miss the game.

“Be a good listener,” Dardis said.
Maybe that’s why, when he received the officiating honor, no one was heard grousing about ol’ Pete Dardis getting the nod. No, it was quite the opposite: Ol’ Pete Dardis deserved it. Ol’ Pete keeps order in the house, be it on the field or in officials’ meetings.

Ol’ Pete has a firm but not a dictatorial grip. He’s the boss but he is approachable.
All that said, well, it’s the least the CIF could do, to give him the Open Game.

’Course, ol’ Pete would never, ever say that. Which is one of the reasons why ol’ Pete Dardis commands such respect, that even when he had every right to preen, he didn’t.
“Come on, Pete,” I baited, “this is the one time you can pat yourself on the back. Come on. Go ahead. It’s a hell of an honor.”
Ol’ Pete Dardis didn’t say a thing. He just shrugged.

For more North Bay sports go to padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.