An Interview With...
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Van Nuys, California where, at the age of 12, I met the creator of BattleBots, Trey Roski.
What were your favorite subjects in school?
Having a learning disability like dyslexia, I didn't have many favorite subjects in school as it was often a struggle. I had favorite teachers more than subjects. However, through about six grade I did love math. In high school, Economics was one of my favorite subjects.
What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects? What did you do to cope with any difficult subjects?
My least favorite subject was English. I did not enjoy reading Shakespeare and found it written in an awkward way. Nonetheless, I struggled through it and asked for lots of extra help.
When did you discover that you had a learning difference? How did it impact your school years?
It was my first grade teacher who identified that I might have a learning disability. She was an awesome teacher named Kay Pulscamp. I'm probably spelling her name wrong. Fortunately, my parents made many sacrifices to help get the support needed and I attended a few local day schools that offered specialized instruction. Back in those days, kids with all types of disabilities were either clumped into one school or even one classroom. I remember having classmates that were labeled “retarded”. Obviously, this is a word we don't use in today's society. It was my mom who literally searched all ends of the country to find the best school. When I was about 10, she found two schools all the way on the other side of the country that specialized in dyslexia. One (The Gow School) was in the outskirts of Buffalo, New York and the other (Landmark) was about 30 miles outside of Boston, Massachusetts. My mom felt Gow was the better school between the two. During that same year, my mom met Trey Roski's mother at a support meeting for parents with dyslexic kids and told her about the two schools. Since Trey was a few years older than me, he was the first to attend The Gow School. Apparently, I was immature for my age and Gow wouldn't accept me until 8th grade. I attended Landmark for a summer school plus two years until I matured a little. Trey and I always joke that he was the guinea pig because he was the first to go to Gow and the first to go to Cal State University Long Beach where we both attended. I always followed in his footsteps.
Did you enjoy building and creating when you were young?
Not only did I love building things like Legos, Lincoln logs and other similar toys, I also liked taking things apart... many times to my dad's frustration. I took apart my dad's radios because I had such curiosity to see what was inside and how it all worked. I have to admit, when I put his radios back together there were always parts left on the table. I did enjoy playing sports but was often the smallest kid... but that didn't stop me from participating.
How did you get involved with BattleBots?
Back in 1999, I owned a production company, that produced commercials and infomercials. But wait, there’s more! About three weeks before BattleBots was to host its first ever event, I received a call from my friend, the CEO of BattleBots, Trey Roski. He was still looking for a production company to produce his event. By the end of the call, that was no longer an issue as we agreed to work together. So, along with my business partner, Jock Petersen, we produced the first ever BattleBots competition alongside Trey and his cousin Greg Munson. It was an amazing show and BattleBots was born.
Have you built a BattleBot yourself?
No...well, not yet. I remember back in 1999, during a lunch break at the Long Beach event, when I first became inspired to build a bot. Halfway through my meal, I pushed my food aside and started doodling out on a napkin my first bot. To this day, I still have not built a bot. But I will never close the door on being a part of a team some day. Being in the center of action for over twenty years has taught me a thing or two about what makes a championship bot and how to win. Maybe some day I will share my wisdom.
What do you do during a BattleBots fight? Is the job of referee difficult?
Basically, my responsibilities as a Ref include overseeing and managing the operations in and around the BattleBox before, during, and after a match. This includes: starting matches, stopping matches early, declaring a win by knockout, declaring and administering timeouts, and watching for safety violations. What you don’t see on TV are the safety procedures we are involved in. So, part of the Ref’s responsibilities include keeping everyone safe. The job can be very challenging at times. There can be a fine line between determining whether a bot is incapacitated or not. Sometimes it is very clear and other times you have to make a judgment call based on whether you think the driver has control or not. You don’t want to get that wrong. Plus, there are cameras around us and everything happens in front of a live audience. Yes, there is a lot of pressure on a Ref but after being involved in over 500 fights, I love what I do.
Would you rather be a referee or a judge? Which do you think is more difficult?
While I would probably enjoy being a judge after I retire as the Ref, I prefer being where I am at and in the center of all the action. Plus, Refs are way more involved in the show and are on camera more often. That’s a cool and fun place to be!
How do competitors react to your decisions?
The teams are great to work with and I have known many of them for 20 years, but every now and then, in the middle of the heat of the battle, tempers flare. Over the years, I have been challenged on my decisions (of course I am always right), yelled at (with profanity) and have even been pushed. As Refs, we are on our feet most of the day and in the center of all the action. I would say, hands down, between all the job duties, being in the heat of the moment, and with all the safety we do, the Refs have a more difficult job.
What do you enjoy most about BattleBots?
I love working with my best friend Trey Roski, Greg Munson, Tom Gutteridge, fellow ref Mike Ayres and all the other BattleBots staff, production crew and of course the teams. One of the people I am so fortunate to work with on a daily basis, is co-creator and Executive Producer, Greg Munson. He is so much fun to be around and is incredibly talented. Someone could do a story on all the many things he does for BattleBots both in front and behind the scenes. Plus, he is an amazing musician, artist and dad.
Are you friends with the BattleBots builders and drivers? Can you describe what it is like to be part of the BattleBots family?
I am friends with BattleBot builders and drivers. They are a very cool and creative group of people. When we are together, it feels like we are all back home for a giant family reunion.
Do you have any words of advice for children reading this interview? Do you have any specific advice for children struggling with dyslexia and other learning disabilities?
My advice, for anyone reading this, would be to stay close to those who love and support you. Keep learning. In today’s world, learning just about anything is just a Google, YouTube or Reddit search away. As for kids with learning disabilities, keep trying and never give up. Don’t be ashamed of your disability for it can truly be one of your greatest assets. Where you lack in one area, you will excel greatly in others. If I was not dyslexic, I would not be best friends with Trey Roski, working on one of the coolest TV shows in the world and I would not be able to share it all with you today.
What is your favorite quote? What does it mean to you?
My favorite quote was told to me by none other then Trey Roski. I am not sure if he came up with it but it may have saved my life. I give the words he spoke that day, credit for where I am today. I was in my early 30’s and going through the most challenging time in my life. It was Trey who told me this:
“For every door that closes, many more will open up”.
He was absolutely right. So instead of focusing on the closed door, I changed my thinking and looked for ones that were open. And there were lots of them.
- 15 May 2018
13 May 2018
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