Judo champion and Los Angeles instructor Hayward Nishioka first suggested to Frank Morales, “Hey, why don’t you referee?”
Morales picked up a rule book and the journey began. About 30 years after that start, Morales is among the nation’s most experienced referees. Next week, Morales heads to Irving, TX, where he’ll serve as chief of referees at the triple-header – the Presidents Cup, Military and Police Championships and the Dallas Invitational.
The decades since picking up that rule book included life in Los Angeles, Hawaii and wherever else the military and his trucking career took him. Morales was introduced to judo while training to become a police officer in the summer of ’68, a pursuit derailed, ironically, because he’d indicated having had back trouble. The judo, though, became his lifelong avocation as a successful competitor, coach and then a referee.
Now 77, Morales says, “the reason I keep going is because I enjoy it.” That includes a lot of things about officiating, despite the drawbacks: the substantial cost of travel for referees, and the conflicts that occasionally erupt alongside the mats.
What this veteran of the sport said he enjoys most is the opportunity to work with longtime colleagues, sharing experiences to refine their skills, and training the new and up-and-coming referees. He recalled gathering with other referees years ago, including Nishioka, to share critiques in a group called the Killer Bees. And Morales said he regularly encourages his fellow referees to offer clinics as a way to spread the knowledge.
Bridging the gap between referees and coaches is another part of the work that can, at times, be difficult, but ultimately rewarding, Morales said. Sometimes he’s done this by sitting down calmly with a disgruntled coach after a match. Other times he is responding to emails and calls from coaches and referees who return from matches overseas where rules were interpreted differently.
“It’s about giving back,” Morales said. “I was always taught that you have to give something back when you’re done being a competitor.” A guiding principle for Morales is also a core tenet of Kodokan judo, the pursuit of mutual benefit, that by helping one another we raise ourselves.
Look for Morales at the President’s Cup, Military and Police Championships, and Dallas Invitational, Nov. 23 and 24.