For love of the game
by Kenda Nelson
Sep 22, 2011 | 1544 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Raymond Cisneros has tallied 35 years as a referee.
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On any given Friday night in football stadiums across South Texas, beams of light turn darkness to day. Victory-hungry fans fill the stands and excitement escalates until the clock ticks down to game time.

For 35-year veteran football referee Raymond Cisneros’ passion for the game never diminishes.

“I love everything about football – the excitement, the atmosphere, the fans, I even love the grunts,” he says.

Running up and down the field for 48 minutes with well-conditioned football players is not for the faint hearted, especially at the age of 66.

“You have to stay in shape, that’s for sure,” Cisneros says.

Dark-purple bruises mark the official’s flesh from his left wrist up to above the elbow. An errant cleat caught his left ankle, requiring three stitches and a butterfly bandage. The wounds stem from a junior varsity game he officiated in Goliad last week.

Yet, the referee is unscathed – abrasions and scrapes are synonymous with the game, both for athletes and officials.

“It just happens from time to time,” Cisneros says.

In just under four decades of officiating, Cisneros’ memories of past games are all good – he can’t dredge up a single bad game in his mind’s eye.

A rivalry between Zapata and Hebbronville for the district championship stands out. The coaches couldn’t agree on the referees, so UIL stepped in. Officials from the Corpus Christi chapter of officials selected Cisneros and three others.

“The game was a hard-fought, close game, something like 7-6,” he says. “The stadium was the size of Buc Stadium in Corpus Christi and it was packed.”

Cisneros says the bigger teams always play the roughest and are usually bigger and more competitive.

Ironically, the only coach Cisneros tossed out of a game was a female. After numerous warnings, Cisneros says he had little choice.

“The last thing you want to do is throw a coach out of the game,” he says. “I don’t ever want to have to do that again.”

With a district championship at stake, the coach set her sights on harassing another official. As the senior referee, Cisneros had to put a stop to her antics.

“She was relentless,” Cisneros says.

But the referee paid the price. The paperwork required by UIL was enormous and time-consuming.

“I usually let the remarks go in one ear and out the other,” he says.

Cisneros insists that good referees have their eyes on the players and the game. Unlike basketball, most remarks coming from the crowd are unintelligible.

“I call the game as I see it,” he says. “If another official isn’t sure of what he’s seen, I’ll pick up the flag.”

Every official has a name and a job to do.

“As referee, my job is to protect the quarterback, he says. “The umpire is behind the defensive line and his job is to watch for holding or illegal players down field.”

The head linesman in in charge of the chain. The other lineman finds the correct spot to put the ball back in play. The back judge takes care of the 25-second clock and watches for pass interference.

Cisneros currently referees basketball and girls softball as well. He is also one of the founders of District 29 Little League Umpires.

The referee grew up in Woodsboro and played sports for WHS in the mid-1960s. After graduation, he joined the Army and is a Vietnam combat veteran.

Upon returning, he earned his associate’s degree from San Antonio College. While working on his bachelor’s degree, he was offered a civil service job as a warehouseman at NAS Chase Field where he worked until the base closed.

Cisneros completed his career at Corpus Christi Army Depot. Since retiring, the Woodsboro resident devotes his time and energy to sports, officiating and being a fan.

“I’m there for the kids,” he says. “I believe in educating bodies as well as minds.”

The referee can’t imagine a better way to spend his time.

“I don’t plan to retire soon,” he says. “I’ll go on until I can’t go on any more.”

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