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Old Sun Jan 04, 2009, 11:13am
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Great Story About a San Antonio Official and His Son

Memories of son sustain S.A. official
After his son was killed last June in Afghanistan, veteran high school football official Raul Mendoza all but declared himself out for the 2008 season.

As he grieved with his family, Mendoza felt a strong obligation to be home as much as possible. He also feared his heartache would hurt his focus on the field.

“I didn't want to deprive the kids of a good official,” he said. “I thought I was going to take a year off. My wife even said, ‘I don't know what I'm going to do with you at home on Friday nights.'”

But as the season drew closer, Mendoza found himself thinking more and more of what his late son, Marine Sgt. Matthew Elias Mendoza, would have wanted him to do. While he continued to mourn, Mendoza also drew strength from his son's sacrifice.

Matthew Mendoza, 24, was killed June 20 by an explosive while patrolling with his unit in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He left a wife and a 6-year-old son.

With the blessing of his wife, Elizabeth, Raul Mendoza put on his official's uniform at the start of the 2008 season and was on the field for every Friday night except one.

Fittingly, Mendoza was part of the crew that officiated the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday at the Alamodome.

When the game ended, he walked to the sideline where some of his closest officiating buddies were waiting to talk with him. Within seconds, Mendoza was fighting back tears as he spoke briefly with Herb Pounds, Albert Lopez and Rudy Balli.

“These guys are like family to me,” Mendoza said. “There were 15 officials at my house within an hour after we got word my son had been killed.”

Lopez saw Matthew grow up and officiated many of his games, from Pop Warner to Highlands.

“I get chills when I talk about him,” Lopez said.

A 2003 Highlands graduate, Matthew was a standout linebacker for the Owls.

“He lived and breathed football, and I know he would have wanted me to keep officiating,” Mendoza said.

Matthew enlisted in 2004 and served two tours in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan.

“I have worn the dog tags he was wearing when he died since the day we got them from the Marines,” Mendoza said. “And I will not take them off. I get my faith through God and my courage through my son.”

Mendoza, a 1980 Wheatley graduate, works for CPS Energy and has been a football official for 26 years.

Pounds, supervisor of officials for the All-American Bowl, said he selected Mendoza for this year's game because of his ability, experience and dedication.

“He deserved to be out there,” Pounds said.

Five other San Antonians — Carlos Balli, Ricky Carpinteyro, Abe Gallegos, Joe Hernandez and Lewis Stroud — also officiated the game. Mike Wise, a former San Antonio resident, rounded out the crew.

Pounds, who worked the Devine-Pleasanton season opener in 2008 with Mendoza, recalled using a coin that belonged to Matthew for the coin toss.

“It was a special coin that had been given to him by the Marines for a job well done,” Pounds said. “Raul asked me if I could use it for the coin toss. I was so moved that I could hardly get the words out when I told the team captains about the coin.”

The coin was used at games throughout the season.

Here's hoping other high school football players will hear about Matthew Mendoza's sacrifice for years to come.

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Old Mon Jan 05, 2009, 11:40am
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Thanks for sharing Mike. That must've been an honor to be a part of that game.
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