Mike Dobes was just a senior in high school when he got his start officiating local youth football games.
A tight end for the Canyon Cowboys football team at the time, Dobes had grown up watching his dad, Bob, officiate football games and even helped out with the chain gang when was somewhere between 9 to 11 years old.
“I would follow him to his Friday night football games, sit in the locker room with the crew and then I was always the clip kid,” Mike said in a phone interview with The Signal. “He was the head linesman and handled the chains for all those years, so I would do his clip. I was right there on the sideline.
“Just you know, probably 9, 10, 11 years old going, ‘This is the coolest thing ever.’”
It was following his senior season that Mike started helping his dad with youth football to “make some Christmas money,” he recalled. Now, 34 years later, Mike is still officiating games, making it 43 years straight with a Dobes high school official in Southern California.
“I’ve never looked back,” Mike said. “I’ve never taken a season off since my senior year of high school and just have had a blast. I continue to love doing it.”
Bob, a retired Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighter who still lives in Canyon Country, got his start in 1980 as a basketball official for a youth tournament and was asked to join the high school unit after. He retired from basketball in 2000 but kept on doing football for a few years, even getting the chance to do a few games with his son.
“We got to work one season together all throughout the San Fernando Valley,” Mike said, “working JV and varsity doubleheaders together, which was just a blast to be on the field for a season looking at each other and laughing and just enjoying the sport out there.”
Mike has picked up where Bob left off, taking on some basketball duties in the past five years after a work schedule shift allowed him to work more in the late afternoon rather than only at night for football.
Both Bob and Mike said that the best part of being a high school football official is the camaraderie that is built among the officials. Unlike basketball where partners can change from game to game, football officials work as a unit for an entire season, and sometimes even longer.
“For the last 10 years that I was working, I had the same guys,” Bob said. “So, one game a season all the wives would come, sit up in the stands and then we all went out to have a meal afterwards. I’ve gone on numerous camping trips with the guys that I was working with. So, it is more of a bond than you would think.”
Bob doesn’t get to go out to too many of Mike’s games as most of them are in Ventura County, but occasionally Mike will be sent to a playoff game closer to the Santa Clarita Valley, such as last month when he helped officiate the Southern Section Division 6 first-round matchup between Hart and Crean Lutheran.
Bob didn’t go to that game, but Mike made sure to stop by home before heading to College of the Canyons for the game. Mike recalled a basketball game in Simi Valley a couple of seasons ago that Bob was able to attend, and he said he felt like a little kid again looking for his dad in the stands.
“I’m looking up in the stands and going, ‘Hey, my dad’s up there. That’s cool,’” Mike said. “It’s like, that’s just so weird, like it’s the same feeling of being 8 years old and playing Little League.”
There have been quite a few moments in Mike’s officiating career that he said have left him feeling grateful.
One of those was when he got to do a football game at Monrovia High School, his dad’s alma mater.
“I can remember a couple of times getting to work their games,” Mike said. “So, I’m on the field where my parents went to school.”
Mike has also gotten to officiate football games at both the Rose Bowl and Angel Stadium, the latter of which he said was a “jarring” experience.
“The end zone was in the middle of like left field or something,” Mike said, “so the environment was really odd, but it’s like, ‘Man, this is pretty cool.’”
He even got officiate the first football game between Oaks Christian and Westlake.
“We joke you can throw a rock and hit the two schools, and it was the first time I walked out of a stadium after a game and my ears hurt because of the noise,” Mike said. “It was so loud and so packed. The whole night was just electric. You could just feel the energy in the stadium.
Asked who the better official was, Bob paused for a second before Mike chimed in with, “It’s definitely you. You taught me everything you know.”
Bob laughed for a second before answering, “Well, I’m gonna have to give into that then. Maybe not all of that was good, but I taught him everything I did know.”
Mike has a full-time job at Grace School in Simi Valley, teaching junior high English and Advanced Placement world history. He doesn’t need to continue officiating and taking multiple nights away from his family each month, and sometimes each week during basketball season.
So why does he do it?
Bob had the answer to that question.
“One of our sayings throughout the unit is, ‘There’s no better place to be on a Friday night than on a football field in front of a full stadium,’” Bob said. “It’s such a good feeling to be there and to know that you’re gonna make sure everything goes smooth, that everybody plays fairly. And you are not noticed. You don’t want to be noticed. Do your job and get out of there. But guys love to be on the field on Friday night.”
Mike felt the exact same way, and even took it a step further, showing appreciation to his dad for giving him the path to stay in sports long after his athletic career was over.
“I’m so grateful to my dad because he introduced me to this, and I was a teenage kid going, ‘Yeah, I’ll follow my dad around and make some Christmas money,’” Mike said. “It’s turned into 34 years and counting of memories and experiences and friends and this whole world I never would have been part of if it wasn’t for my dad.
“It’s been a blast, and I hope my knees and hips and every other body part lasts so I can keep doing it for plenty more years.”