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Basketball Has Become More Than a Game to Varos

September 01, 1994|KIRBY LEE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Al Varos is going on vacation over Labor Day Weekend, but, as always, basketball won't be far away.

Varos works full time as a shipping and receiving supervisor at Cal State L.A. After work, he officiates basketball games as many as six nights a week.

There won't be any officiating for Varos this weekend, but he will have some coaching to do when he takes his family to Phoenix--along with Varos' traveling basketball team East Los.

The team, comprised of players recruited by Varos from games he has officiated, will play in the 14th annual National Hispanic Classic. The 32-team double elimination tournament will feature Latino teams from throughout the United States and Mexico.

"I guess you could call me a basketball fanatic," Varos, 47, said. "I don't look at it as a tournament, I look at it as a vacation. It's a family thing. The fun and the people you meet outweigh the expenses involved."

Some fun. His wife is in charge of washing the uniforms. Daughters Nancy, 23, and KimRene, 21, help with statistics and the scorebook during games.

"I actually look forward to the tournaments," Varos' wife Martha said. "We are a tight family and we all like to root for the team."

The Monterey Park family has had a lot to cheer about. East Los has won tournaments in Flagstaff, Ariz., San Francisco and Coachella, Calif. The 2-year-old team is made up of players that range in age from 21 to 36.

The team includes former Rio Hondo College players Tony Rubio and Chris Allen as well as Tony Stevens, who played at Cantwell High and East L.A. College.

Alex Espinoza played at East L.A. College and Alex Del Hierro played at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Jerry Espinosa and Ricardo Lopes from Bell High are members of the 10-player team.

"Al brings in guys with the same intense desire for basketball as himself and puts together a team with chemistry," said Stevens, 36, an assistant football coach at South Pasadena High. "He gives players an opportunity to continue playing in an organized way and for younger players to get experience to play in college."

And after college. Steve Leary, who played on East Los last year, is playing in the Continental Basketball Assn. Varos' son Mike, 25, who played at Schurr High and Cal State L.A., is playing professionally in Mexico.

It was through his son's youth leagues in Montebello that Varos first became involved with officiating 14 years ago.

"I thought I could do a better job than the officials were doing," Varos said. "In retrospect, I wasn't really ready. The very first time I was not really knowledgeable with the rules. "

That changed when he made the jump to the high school level in 1982. Varos had to pass a written test and a field exam.

"In order to do high school games, you have to go to classes, you have to know the rules. You can't just go out there and think you can do it."

Varos, who officiates both City and Southern Section games, has proven his credentials over the past decade. He is a board member on the San Gabriel Valley unit of the California Basketball Officials Assn., the governing body for high school referees.

In March, he officiated the State Southern California Regional Division semifinal between Pacific Hills and Campbell Hall. He has also been a referee in the Police Olympics.

"I enjoy the excitement of high school games the most," Varos said. "As a spectator, I prefer the college game. When I walk into a game or look at a box score, I don't look at the players. The first thing I look for is to see who the referees are and if it's somebody I know."

Varos, though, has no plans of joining his colleagues at the collegiate level. Instead, his ultimate goal is to someday serve as an assistant coach for his son at a high school.

"Good officials who want to move up have to work hard, and to move up in the ranks you have to really pursue it," Varos said. "And it's something I really never pursued. In the back of my mind, I'd say I might have wanted to but I enjoyed watching my son playing more."

For now, the bulk of Varos' officiating is done in parks and recreation and other adult leagues in L.A. and Orange counties. He usually makes about $60 officiating three games a night.

"I meet a lot of different guys just by word of mouth," Varos said. "There's basketball going on every day in every city. If you do a good job and they like your work, they usually call you back. But officials don't do it for the money. It has to be a hobby, a passion. If I wasn't officiating, I'd be watching a game somewhere."

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