It was the hardest timeout referee Michael Roybal had to call Tuesday night, but it might have been the best call he ever made.
Prior to Tuesday night’s girls basketball game between Santa Fe High and Rio Rancho Cleveland, Santa Fe High officials commemorated the life of longtime basketball and football official David Soveranez with a moment of silence. Soveranez, who had a distinguished 45-year career as an official, died earlier that day at the age of 76 after falling into a coma due to internal bleeding, said son David Ray Soveranez.
It was up to Roybal, Soveranez’s nephew and a member of the game’s officiating crew, to run out to center court to signal an honorary 30-second timeout in Soveranez’s honor. He raced to the middle of the court and pointed to the heavens before he blew his whistle, pointed to the scorer’s table and extended his arms to signify the timeout amid a silent crowd.
“I knew I had to make the hardest call of my officiating career, and it’s not a foul or a technical on a coach,” Roybal said. “That 30-second timeout was one of the hardest timeouts I ever administered.”
Roybal was just one of many officiating protégés Soveranez left behind in a career that began in the 1970s and didn’t end until 2017. Soveranez, who was born in Cañones and graduated from Santa Fe High in 1962, was known for his quiet but affable personality and his dedication to his craft, a skill he passed to the next couple of generations of men and women who donned the black-and-white shirts.
Mark Salazar, who called many basketball games with Soveranez, said he always offered advice and guidance to officials at every turn, even after he retired. Salazar said he wouldn’t have become the official he is if not for Soveranez’s mentorship.
“David was so humble in what he did,” Salazar said. “He didn’t do it for the notoriety or to show off how good he was. He officiated games because they needed to be officiated. He didn’t care if it was a seventh-grade girls [basketball] game or a state championship football game.”
Ralph Ortiz, a retired referee who was Soveranez’s classmate and friend, said Soveranez worked hard at being the best official he could be and rarely was out of position to make a call. He added that legendary ref Dickie Rodriguez held Soveranez in the highest regard, and it showed in the numerous state football and basketball postseason contests — including state championship games — of which he was a part.
“Dickie would say, ‘Any time I send David to any game anywhere, I don’t have to worry about it,’ ” Ortiz said.
Greg Sandoval, a 20-year football ref and an assistant boys basketball coach at Santa Fe High, said he marveled at how Soveranez could diffuse a tense situation with any coach without losing his temper. Soveranez also knew how to explain a call he made to players to help them understand why he called it and give them tips to help them avoid a similar situation.
Perhaps the best advice Sandoval ever received from Soveranez didn’t pertain to his officiating, but his coaching. Sandoval said he was a bit hot-headed toward officials as a basketball coach and sometimes got technical fouls. After a while Soveranez, along with Rodriguez and Ortiz, sat down with Sandoval to explain how his behavior as a coach was a slap in the face to officials — some of whom Sandoval worked with during the fall. It led Sandoval to re-examine his approach and learn how to talk to officials in a more productive manner.
“They said, ‘You can’t be good at either if you’re going to disrespect one of them, and Greg, you’re disrespecting officials. You can’t do that,’ ” Sandoval said.
While Soveranez was best known as a ref, his day job for the longest time was as the sports coordinator for the city of Santa Fe. David Ray Soveranez said his dad created mushball and flag football leagues while also handling adult volleyball, basketball and softball leagues. He also was a football and baseball coach, the younger Soveranez said, and his dad always made a point of being a part of not just his children’s activities but his extended family, as well.
“He was not only a father to me, but he had many brothers and sisters and he was a father figure to them as well,” David Ray said. “He had a lot on his plate, but dad was always in a good mood. He was always happy.”
David also was an attentive grandfather, as he always showed up at his grandkids’ events. In fact, he spent his last waking day watching his grandson, Mateo Soveranez, play for Pojoaque Valley at Capital’s Al Armendariz Tournament on Dec. 9 when he collapsed walking up the bleachers after a 66-61 Elks win over Grants. David Ray said he was transported to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center where surgeons repaired blood vessels that caused the bleeding, but his dad never regained consciousness.
“Eventually, he was reliant on the ventilator and life support,” David Ray said. “The thing is, he was always and active man. He never wanted to slow down.”
Roybal and the younger Soveranez said they received an outpouring of condolences and support not just from people around Northern New Mexico, but across the state and beyond. Roybal said he received messages from people from as far away as Indiana over the past couple of days, which did not surprise David Ray.
“Once you knew Dad, then you would know he knew everybody else,” David Ray said. “He knew so many people from his different avenues of work, he could have been a politician.”
David Soveranez is survived by his wife, Anna; son David Ray; daughter Felicia Maloney; mother Alicia Soveranez; and grandsons Andres Soveranez, Mateo Soveranez and Ethan Maloney.
The rosary will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 3 at Rivera Funeral Home. The funeral is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 4 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.