One of the major highlights of the recently completed NASO Summit in New Orleans was a Grand Prize Giveaway raffle that was held after Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira’s talk at the end of Officiate Louisiana Day.

Anyone who signed up for NASO membership or renewed that day was entered. The winner earned a dinner with an NFL crew, two tickets to an August New Orleans Saints’ preseason game and a Marriott hotel stay.

Twenty-five year baseball and softball veteran Eddie Barker of Hammond, La., was the big winner and to say he was ecstatic over the experience would be an understatement. Following are a few of the happy comments that he sent in an email to NASO and Referee:

“My family and I would like to start off by saying, ‘THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU’ to you and the entire staff at NASO for this weekend experience,” he wrote. “We started off with a terrific dinner at the Bourbon House restaurant where we were treated to a wonderful meal. Meeting four of the seven referees that were going to do the game was a great time as well.

“When I watch these guys on TV doing the games, I always thought that they were probably some very high profile, stern celebrity types that wouldn’t get along with the casual fan. BUT, when you sit down with them and eat dinner with them, you realize that they are just like anybody else with jobs, families and problems just like you and me; they just so happen to referee NFL football games.”

Barker also praised referee Clete Blakeman for a last-second save on the game tickets. There were two tickets as part of the package, so Barker’s wife Stacey was going to defer and let him take their 14-year-old son Brody to the game instead.

“… When Clete heard that she wasn’t going to the game, he arranged for us to get some of the tickets they were allotted so we could all attend,” continued Barker. “That made my wife’s night knowing that all three of us were going to be able to attend the game.

“… We will always remember the experience that we had and the generosity of NASO for allowing us this amazing opportunity.  My wife has put several things on Facebook about our night and is getting nothing but great responses.”

In a follow-up phone call, Barker said the event was a great idea by NASO (he has been a member for about 12 years) and that it was fun to be a part of Officiate Louisiana Day.

“It was really interesting listening to the speakers,” he said. “Hear about the various paths they took (to get to officiating). It’s amazing, even the major people took very similar paths. Bitty ball, high school, college, then the pros.”

Barker got into officiating largely because of his father, who founded a city recreation league and then worked in it for many years.

“Then someone came up to me and said, ‘You should be an official,’” he said. “I had a friend involved too, so I said, ‘Yes.’ It’s the same story as a lot of these guys. You play the sport you love and then you retire but you’d like to stay involved.

“I’m also involved in various civic organizations and so I see this (officiating) as something of a civic duty to take part in.”

Barker said he’s clearly going to seriously think about coming to future NASO Summits.

“I definitely want to check out what they do at other events, in other cities,” he said.