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Whistle-Stop Tour

Prep football: Cal Burke's officiating career began in 1956 and his love of the game keeps him coming back.

November 05, 1998|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 39 years of running up and down the field and keeping order as a high school football official, Cal Burke says it might be time to call it quits.

Again.

Burke, 70, retired from officiating in 1992, only to be pulled back three years later. So despite his protestations to the contrary, Los Angeles City Section coaches fully expect to see him again next season.

"I can't tell you what keeps me interested," Burke said a few days after officiating a game between Hollywood and Belmont. "If you're really into it, it's kind of cerebral. You get to like the fine points of the game, the rules and the nuances."

Burke, a still-strapping 6 feet 3, and Frank Gutierrez are the senior members of the 100-member Los Angeles unit of the Southern California Football Officials Assn. Gutierrez, a counselor at East Los Angeles College, has officiated since 1957.

Burke, a retired administrator of continuing education for the Los Angeles Unified School District, has gained a statewide reputation for his knowledge of football rules and his instructional talents.

"He's a teacher and a coach at heart, so he knows how to communicate with players, coaches and other officials," said Al Padilla, a longtime high school and junior college coach in East Los Angeles. "He commands respect."

From older and younger coaches alike.

"He comes out and lets you know who's in charge," Crenshaw Coach Robert Garrett said. "If you have a question, he will send you a dissertation on interpretation of the rule. He wants to come by and look at film with you so you understand. The man is into the game."

Burke, a graduate of Fremont High and Cal State Los Angeles, began his officiating career in 1956 while serving as an assistant B football coach under Padilla at Roosevelt High.

In those days, virtually every football official was also a coach.

"I remember times when we worked three games on a Friday," Burke said. "We'd do an afternoon game, then rush to the next school and do a doubleheader.

"We earned $12 a game in those days. As a young teacher, that $12 was often the difference between meat and beans."

Burke's career in education took a turn in 1964 when he was asked to oversee continuation classes at Roosevelt. He immediately felt as comfortable in that setting as he did on the field.

"They were kids that just needed a break," said Burke, who became a continuing education specialist for the district in 1968 and spent the next 24 years overseeing and expanding the program. "The reason given for the referral of those kids is irregular attendance. But irregular attendance is not a disease, it's a symptom. There's something these kids aren't getting in the mainstream that we have to afford them."

Burke's communication and teaching skills have helped hundreds of officials understand and interpret rules.

Carver Shannon, instructional chairman for the Los Angeles unit, said Burke was instrumental in helping him make the transition from playing in the NFL to eventually officiating in the league.

"In all the years I played ball, I didn't know the rules, I just wanted the 15 yards like everybody else," said Shannon, who played for the Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago Bears. "I learned a lot from Cal about demeanor and about how to talk to players and coaches.

"Cal's favorite statement is, 'I don't like or agree with every rule in the book, but I guarantee I will enforce everyone one of the them.' "

Burke's other priority is making sure no one gets hurt. His emphasis on preventive officiating--"You set a tone and you don't let little things turn into big problems"--is one of his hallmarks.

Shannon said high school football cannot afford to let that kind of person retire, whether he wants to or not.

"He can still run pretty good," Shannon said. "As long as he can do that, I want him out there. The game needs him."

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