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Central Coast Classic: John Iribarren has called games for nearly 60 years
Central Coast Classic

Central Coast Classic: John Iribarren has called games for nearly 60 years

When John Iribarren walked off the Righetti High School gridiron on a Thursday afternoon in late October of last year, he was unsure if his 59th year as an official would be his last or not.

However, "I'm about 80 percent sure this will be my last year," Iribarren said days before he had worked the Paso Robles-Righetti freshman football game that night.

Fatigue was not the reason Iribarren, then 80, was mulling retiring from officiating.

"I still have a lot of energy," Iribarren said.

Iribarren said he got into the business because, "I wanted to stay in sports. I wanted to keep working with the kids. I got my start officiating Sunday fraternity flag football games at Cal Poly," where Iribarren attended.

He is the longest tenured member of the Los Padres Football Officials Associations (LPFOA). Iribarren also served as a teacher, coach and dean of students at Mission College Prep in San Luis Obispo. He retired from the school in 2012 after 50 years of service. 

"It was hard to leave teaching and coaching there after doing it for so long," he said.

"I coached (current St. Joseph athletic director) Tom Mott and his brother, Billy, in baseball at Mission Prep," said Iribarren.  

Iribarren has officiated football, baseball and basketball games for the past six decades. His body of work has been good enough that he was selected 15 times to work NCAA Division I football bowl games.

To get the honor, "I had to be No. 1 at my position, line judge," said Iribarren. "I had to work hard all year."

John Iribarren, no relation to Willie and Cameron Iribarren who distinguished themselves as football players for Lompoc High School, has been long-time Central Coast official Mike Ostini's mentor.

"John was my mentor when I broke in," said Ostini, himself a 43-year veteran as an official on the Central Coast, where he is the high school football officials assigner.

"Mike and I get to talk about the new officials who are coming up, the young guys who are getting ready (to work varsity games)," said Iribarren.

"It's a hard thing for young guys to make that commitment, but overall we have had a real good year."

The seven-man crew Ostini, who also worked the Paso Robles/Righetti freshman game, put together had 283 years of combined coaching experience.

Iribarren was the line judge that Thursday night. Ostini was the umpire. The referee was Jerry Mrozek. The head linesman was Tom Lake, the side judge was Garold Shaffer, the back judge was Jim Gin and the field judge was Bobby Kennedy.

John Iribarren had a quiet night of officiating that evening. Much of the action was on the other side of the field from where Iribarren was stationed.

His signals were quick and concise, though, and he clearly let inquiring wide receivers know before the ball was snapped that, yes, they were onside.

At game's end, Iribarren held the ball aloft signalling, possibly for his last time in Santa Barbara County, that the game was over. 

Central Coast Classic Series: We look back at some the biggest games in the area's history

With a little extra time on our hands, we are taking a look into the past of prep sports on the Central Coast. Our sports staff has been going through our archives searching for photos and stories highlighting some of the most pivotal games area teams have played over the last two decades.

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.

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