Bob Shor, 60 years an official…By Bruce Colman
From Turns & Distances, a publication of the Officials Committee of the Pacific Associal USA Track & Field
Originally published July 27, 2015:
We were quite moved, a couple years ago, when the Pacific Association Youth Committee named one of their meets The Bob Shor-Charlie Sheppard Classic. The sixth* installment was held in El Sobrante in April. This honors two certified officials who are almost always there for Youth meets.
Sheppard created the youth committee’s original on-line registration system, while also working as back-up starter for many meets and serving as the youth committee’s records chair. He has done heroic work over the years, chairing PA’s Disabled Athletics Committee. (This lately has been renamed the Para Athletes Committee.)
Shor has been principal starter for club meets, association championships, Junior Olympics meets, both on the track and in cross country. He was Youth cross-country chair for many, many years. In addition, he represents the Empire Runners to the Pacific Association Board of Athletics; and will be the starter for the USATF National Club Championships in Golden Gate Park, in December. By all accounts, over several decades, he has never missed a meeting, whether of different Youth and LDR committees, or of the Board of Athletics…until a recent bout of ill-health. Awards he has received include the PA Officials’ Dick Barbour Meritorious Service Award (2001), the Pacific Association Service Award (2006), and PA Long Distance Running Committee’s Lifetime Service Award (2015). Certified since 1990, he is a Master official.
Bob sat down to breakfast with Turns and Distances at a café in Santa Rosa, in early May , and said he didn’t want to be paid for working track meets.
SHOR: It would be work and I don’t think I’d enjoy it. I don’t know. I’ve never tried it. I don’t want to try it. I just want to do it because I want to do it. Because I like it. I mean, I’ve worked, done pretty good. But it was work. I’ve never found out what I wanted to do in the way of a job that I really enjoyed the job. Never had it, just worked because I had to eat, had to pay rent.
But this track and field, after I started it, I don’t think I was doing it for two weeks after I started, all of a sudden I realized how great it was.
As a little kid, I was going to play for the Dodgers. Then I realized I wasn’t quite good enough, so there it was: track and field.
BC: So how did you start officiating?
SHOR: My first year in high school at the end of the track season, our sprinter made it to the state meet. And the guy from the next town over also made it to the state meet. So their sprinter and our sprinter were going to be at our high school just for practice, before they went to the state meet. And the coach asked me if I would just help them out. All of a sudden he had me starting for these two guys. I was a sophomore. And the coach just told me, when you say “set,” just wait before you fire the gun. So I started the races, just for the two of the guys, just for practice, not races. That’s where it started.
BC: Where was this?
SHOR: I’m from New York, I was born in Brooklyn, and at that time we were living out on Long Island, living in the town of New Hyde Park, going to Great Neck High School.
BC: So you basically started officiating even at the beginning of your running career.
SHOR: Yeah. When I was in high school, and the next year, my junior year, I was starting the dual meets, except for the mile. I used to run it. That was the longest race then, in high school, one mile. If you competed in anything from 440– which they used to call it, not 400–or longer, you could only be in one running event; that was it. So my junior and senior years, I ran the mile, and the rest of the time at our meets, I fired the gun for the other races.
BC: What kind of times did you run?
SHOR: In high school, I got down to four-forty-something, nothing spectacular. But I loved it. I just loved the sport, I loved the whole atmosphere. And cross-country, I liked cross-country a lot better than track. You weren’t running around in circles, you were out running in the hills, just mentally it was better.
BC: So you were born in Brooklyn, you grew up on Long Island, how did you wind up in Santa Rosa?
SHOR: For college I went to a military school.
BC: Are you from a military family?
SHOR: No, no, no, no military relatives whatsoever, from any side, just me, I was the outcast, in the military.
I went to Pennsylvania Military College, what it was called then, near Philadelphia. The name has been changed. Now it’s Widener University. Because of Vietnam, the enrollment kept going down and down and down, they had to do something, so they changed the name.
But the military attitude benefited me. I like to think it did, anyway. Then I went to law school, and after the first semester I dropped out, because one of my professors mentioned that if you’re gonna be successful in this business, you gotta get an A in ambulance-chasing. And I figured, no, that’s not my bag.
Then I went on active duty and I went to Vietnam, I was there in ’65 and ’66.
BC: What was your service in Vietnam?
SHOR: I was with the advisors, we were advisors to the Vietnamese infantry. When I went there I was a first lieutenant, when I left I was a captain. And I got hit and I had to get out because of the injury
BC: Where in Vietnam, do you remember?
SHOR: For the most part, it was just 60 kilometers north of Saigon, but you couldn’t go anywhere, you went anywhere, boom, you got shot at.
BC: Do you speak Vietnamese at all?
SHOR: Yeah, because we were advisors. I spent time at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, then eight weeks at Monterey, at the language school, and I learned how to speak Vietnamese, because the teachers couldn’t speak English, so you learned. And then when I got over there, because I was with the Vietnamese, I don’t think I’d been there too long, I realized, I don’t have to translate. They would say something and I could answer right away in Vietnamese. It shocked the heck out of me. How could this happen? I didn’t have to think in English. And I can still speak Vietnamese, a little bit, not as much, at a high school level, because we have a couple of Vietnamese kids in high school, but they were born here, and I can speak better Vietnamese than they can—their parents, no, their parents speak Vietnamese, and I can speak with them a little bit.
BC: After the service…
SHOR: When I got out, I got myself a job up in northern California. I was hired in New York for a company that owned a couple of lumber mills near Arcata and Crescent City.
I met a woman when I was up there in Arcata, Linda, and we married. Unfortunately, after ten and a half years, she died of cancer.
And I got married again, and I’ve been married ever since to another one, Alix. She worked for the county as a social worker. Different departments, different positions. She is now retired but helps out with a few different organizations. She has very little interest in sports. But she sticks with me.
We got married in 1980 and we had a daughter, born about a year and a half later, she’s now Adrienne Johnson. She, her husband, and their boys live in Quincy.
I was in the lumber business about a year and a half. I could see I wasn’t going to stick with that, so I worked for the newspaper in Eureka, selling advertising, and I’ve been in sales ever since. I worked for that newspaper, I worked for a very short time for the newspaper in Salem, Oregon, and then moved here, to Santa Rosa, and I was working for the newspaper here, selling advertising.
After about six years, I started working for a winery, Windsor Vineyards, hawking wine, with personalized labels, over the phone. That’s when I realized, sales is sales. No matter what you’re selling, you’re not selling the product, you’re selling yourself. People don’t buy the product, they buy you. That’s how I wound up selling wine. Not that I drank very much of it, but I sold it.
I worked for Windsor Vineyards for 13 plus years and then came retirement, and that’s the best part. I tell people, if I’d known retirement was so good, I would have done it years before. Now I’ve been retired about 17* years.
BC: You do a lot with youth. How many meets do you figure you work a year?
SHOR: Probably about 120. Like this week. Here I had a meet last Saturday, Sunday, then I had a meet on Tuesday and yesterday and I got one today and I got a youth meet this Saturday. And there’s no meet Sunday because it’s Mother’s Day and if we had a meet on Mother’s Day, it would be over. The parents would never come to a meet again.
BC: How did you get involved with Youth on the governance side? In fact, Joanne Camargo tells us that when she became Youth Chair, you and Charlie Sheppard constituted the entire PA youth committee.
SHOR: When Joanne became the Youth Chairman, Charlie Sheppard and I were quite active as officials and on the Youth committee, but there were quite a few other people as active as we were or more so.
The reason I got involved with the youth was my daughter. I didn’t even know youth existed until then, then I found out what it was, and I got with the local youth club, and I started helping them out, and I went to the meetings, for the youth committee. Come January we would set up the schedule for the year, and I’d just see what was going on, ask questions, and I got involved in it. In ’89 is when I got with the youth. It just grew from there.
BC: So, you’ve been officiating essentially your whole life.
SHOR: In Arcata, I used to start the meets up in Arcata. Everywhere. Even when I was in the service. When I was at Fort Polk, in Louisiana, we were doing basic training, every eight weeks we would rotate, eight weeks, then a new group. I used to start at the small high school track meets, in a small town. Kinda pathetic, but I liked it. It was just too small a town.
BC: You volunteer at Santa Rosa High School, is that right?
SHOR: I’m one of the coaches with the high school. On the list, I’m listed as the head girls’ coach, although there’s one person who coaches the whole thing, he’s actually the head coach, then it’s myself and we have a bunch of other people that do the coaching. The way they pay, they have a head boys’ coach, they have a head girls’ coach, and then they have assistant coaches, depending on the number of kids. So we’ve got two assistant coaches, but one person is listed as the head coach. I coach the hurdles and I help out on everything else, everything, whatever that has to be done. The only thing I can’t do is pole vault. That is not my bag.
BC: Understood! We’re our own little cult over there—athletes, coaches, officials. When we were talking to Mark Drafton, at Santa Rosa Express, he mentioned you working with Sarah Bei (2001 Pan Am Games steeplechase winner) and Julia Stamps (six-time All American in cross country and track at Stanford, six-time national team member) and Kim Conley (US Olympian at 5,000 meters in 2012 [and 2016]). That was through Santa Rosa High?
SHOR: No, Santa Rosa Express.
BC: Did you see something really special in them at the beginning?
SHOR: They have that something that you can’t read in the book. They don’t like to lose. There’s just something there, they just have it.
Like with Kim Conley, she didn’t have that at the beginning, but the other two girls did. They just Did Not Like To Lose and didn’t take ‘em long to realize if they want to win, if they don’t want to lose, they gotta work. And they put the effort in and you didn’t have to push. They would work. And they were a pleasure to work with because of that. And you wonder, how come the others don’t want to do that? Because that’s why there’s just those few, especially in distance running.
In sprinting, the way I look at it, you’ve either got the speed or you don’t have the speed. You can improve it, but you’re not going to move from the bottom to the top.
But in distance running, it hurts. And you just have to make it hurt more.
Like when I talk to the kids on this, I say, okay, in cross country, you’re going so far, now the faster you go, the sooner you get to the finish, the sooner it stops hurting. And they laugh. It’s not funny! It’s true! You gotta make it hurt, and some people can do it, some people can’t. It’s upstairs. It just says that. The light doesn’t go on and say, “that’s enough,” but that’s enough, you can’t go any faster. But other people just do it. And that’s what makes the difference between why some are better than others.
BC: Coach Drafton also gives you credit for teaching rules and especially etiquette to the parents and athletes with Santa Rosa Express.
SHOR: Track etiquette, well, it’s not so much the rules, it’s the attitude. Maybe I’m being as biased, as prejudiced on this as possible, but I like to think people in track are just a step above people in other sports. In this sport, there’s no contact. It’s you, it’s an individual. One thing we don’t have in this sport is a bench. Nobody sits on the bench. Everybody plays. That’s a different attitude. And with the parents, all of a sudden, parents realize what this has done for their kids. And all of a sudden, parents want to get involved in it. It’s just a different attitude.
There are no time outs in this sport, nobody sits on the bench, it’s a different attitude, it’s you. And if you’re content to come in last, that’s fine, but most of the kids don’t want to come in last, so they work.
Also, in other sports half of the people clap and the other half boo. In our sport nobody boos. Well, I guess the only time they boo in our sport is after a false start when they blame the starter. One person breaks, seven don’t, but it’s the starter’s fault. Oh well.
BC: We get a bit of that in field events, too. And umpires! Miss steps on the line or a baton exchange out of the zone by 10 centimeters, and you’ll hear about it. But, let’s talk about the qualities or skills that a starter should have, in your opinion, especially to work with youth.
SHOR: You’ve got to have confidence in them, they’ve got to have confidence in you, that when you say “on your marks,” that they’re not going to mess it up for you, you’re not going to mess it up for them. Get ‘em in there, just so they know, when I say “on your marks,” get in position. When I say, “set,” come up immediately. And what I find, you’ve got to hold them. You can’t just say, set-go. Sure, it’s a legal start, because nobody breaks, but it’s not a fair start because they don’t get out even. Get them set, and when they’re all still, boom!, then, the gun goes off, and all eight of them get out even. After all eight are out of there, then as a starter, I’m done. But to get them out even, that’s the whole thing.
And it’s just something. I remember when I first started doing this, 62* years ago, I was scared stiff and all of a sudden I realized that, hey, if I can do it, they can do it, and I could feel it, you just know that you’re doing it right. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Youth or it’s a high school, or it’s college, or whatever.
I do a lot of the LDR, the cross country and road running, both starting and refereeing. See, there’s another thing. I used to run. And if I was supposed to run at 9 o’clock, upstairs, in the head, I was ready to go, and I had to sit there and wait and wait and I would go crazy, I had to go to the bathroom, nothing came out, but I had to go to the bathroom. It’s nerves! So I figure, these runners, they have to be thinking, most of them are thinking the same way, maybe all of them, I don’t know. But I figure we’re going to start at 9 o’clock, we start at 9 o’clock, period, on the button, and I’ll go to the nearest second, so everybody knows, that’s the way it’s going to be. And it makes me feel good, sometimes people come over and say thank you.
BC: What is your advice for a new official, just starting a career with us?
SHOR: Go out there and have a good time, and so far as learning, no one thing is difficult, if you’re trying to get it all put together, that takes time. But if you can go out there and take care of one thing and make sure it runs right, and you’re out there to make it right for the athletes, you’re not out there to make it right for you, it’s for the athletes. And if you’re doing that, it makes you feel good.
That’s what the sport’s all about. We don’t get paid for doing this, we’re out there to help them; they’re not there to help us.
But there are always details to take care of, sometimes a lot of them.
It’s like a couple years ago, when they had the World Masters Championships in Sacramento, I was on the technical end, and for the steeplechase, we had to get a trellis, that’s what the rules say, so when the runners come up they can see it’s a water jump, they know that there’s something there.
So I go out and I get the trellis, make sure I’ve got a 30 inch high trellis to put across, because that’s what it is for the women. And I put it down and all of a sudden, it sticks up above the top of the barrier. And I think, maybe I got the wrong trellis. And I measure it and it’s 30 inches. Then I realize the water jump barrier is too low.
I did the measurement again and saw it just happened to be the thickness of a 2×4, an inch and a half. So I just took the caps off and put a piece of 2×4 in there, drilled the holes and set it in there, and every way this is legal, so now, it’s at 30 inches and when you raise it six inches for the men, it’s 36 inches.
I just happened to catch it. But if the trellis hadn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have realized it was too low. I like things to be done right.
BC: What do you see as the best outcome for an athlete coming through the PA youth program?
SHOR: Starting with the youth, what you gotta realize is you can take kids born the same day—physically, not mentally but physically—some are way ahead of others. And some that are down at the bottom end, as they grow older, they catch up and they go ahead of the other people and they’re the ones who end up being successful. The ones that start doing it at the top, it’s too easy. And then when the others catch up with them, they don’t want to do it anymore.
BC: This is going back to Julia and working hard, isn’t it?
SHOR: But she worked hard and she kept going.
They’re special. Julia Stamps and Sarah Bei, it just so happened that they were four years apart, so they never competed against each other, not in high school, because one graduated and the other started.
We had another girl from around here, right in between, Trina Cox. She never won a league championship, but she won the state meet. But in the league, she had Julia Stamps for the first two years and Sarah Bei for the last two years. But she won the state meet in cross country and she made it to the state meet on the track, but nobody knows who she is because she was beaten by these other two girls. But she was also one of the top girls we’ve had around here, also came through the Santa Rosa Express.
BC: What’s the best individual athletic performance you’ve been part of?
SHOR: Oh, my god. There are so many spectacular races that I’ve seen. I’ve gotta say with Kim, making it to the Olympics, that was just her race, that was just unbelievable, the way she pulled that one out, by far.
I’ve seen many spectacular races, not just with the Youth, but going all the way back, even when I was in high school, my idol was a guy who won the Olympics in ’56 at 1500 meters, happened to be an Irishman, but he was going to Villanova, Ron Delany. He was my idol in track, and just seeing him in some of these indoor meets, where he would hang back and then take off. At all levels, a race is a race is a race.
Somebody jumping 29 feet. You can’t imagine how far 29 feet is. You look at your house, you don’t have a room that’s close to 29 feet. And you wonder, when Bob Beamon cleared 29 feet, how high up did he have to go? Everybody thinks, boom, you take off and you go straight. But there’s gravity. If you’re going to go straight, you’re going to come down right away. How high did he go? I can remember when Beamon set the world record, that’s back in ’68 in the Olympics and I’m thinking, that will never ever happen again, it’s impossible. But it’s happened. Not very often, but it’s happened again, it’s just unbelievable.
It’s the same thing when somebody has high jumped 8 feet. You look at 8 feet, go in your house, and measure from the floor to the ceiling, that’s not eight feet! And someone has actually cleared that. That’s unbelievable.
And in the pole vault. Over here at the JC, one time I just wanted to show somebody what twenty feet is like. Up in the bleachers, I got up on top and I let a tape measure hang, and I realized it wasn’t 20 feet high! That’s high! How can they do that? It’s amazing.
BC: Tell us something personal, that people might not know about you.
SHOR: When my daughter was about 5, for whatever reason I cannot remember, she went riding at a stable just up the hill from where we still live and my wife, Alix, and I were hooked. That summer we spent a week at a dude ranch in Quincy and figured out how to ride a horse. Our daughter really got good at it, my wife and I took some lessons at the local stable and for some reason or other we bought a horse for our daughter. For quite a few years after that we would spend a week each summer and/or winter at a real live cattle ranch north of Susanville or at a ranch north of Pyramid Lake in Nevada. That all came to an abrupt end when our daughter went to college. I think I’d have a tough time riding a horse now.
I still have lots of friends back east from college, and I still can’t figure out how come when I went back for my 50th college reunion, all the other guys there were old, I was the only young guy there, I can’t figure that out.
BC: What would you like your legacy to be, here in the North Bay?
SHOR: Just so they don’t call me a bum, basically that’s it, just be nice.
There’s other people who are putting as much effort or more.
I just want to do this as long as I possibly can.
Bruce Colman thanks the following individuals for helping to prepare this interview: Joanne Camargo, Mark Drafton, Irene Herman, George Kleeman, Margaret Sheehan, and Dave Shrock.
How Youth feels about Bob Shor
Joanne Camargo tells a story about a Pacific Association Youth championship when it was 110 degrees on the track. Bob had problems with the heat—passed out, Joanne says—and was sent back to the hotel. One of the Bantam boys came up to her, and said, “Where’s Bob?” He’s back at the hotel, resting. “I can’t run if Bob doesn’t start me. Will he be here tomorrow?”
*Note: The years were updated to reflect today, 2 years after the original interview.
A memorial gathering for Bob Shor will be held tomorrow, September 16, 2017, at 2 p.m. in Santa Rosa High School’s auditorium.