Pick a sport and Pete DePalo’s has probably officiated it over the past 40-plus years

Referee Peter DePalo talks to Conant forward Jordan Nagle (15) and Kearsarge forward Parker Goin (5) before the tipoff of a NHIAA Division III boys basketball semifinal game at Bow High School in Bow, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Referee Peter DePalo talks to Conant forward Jordan Nagle (15) and Kearsarge forward Parker Goin (5) before the tipoff of a NHIAA Division III boys basketball semifinal game at Bow High School in Bow, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Referee Peter DePalo runs down the court during the NHIAA Division III boys basketball semifinal game between Conant High School and Kearsarge Regional High School held at Bow High School in Bow, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Referee Peter DePalo runs down the court during the NHIAA Division III boys basketball semifinal game between Conant High School and Kearsarge Regional High School held at Bow High School in Bow, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

International Association of Approved Basketball Officials referee Peter DePalo, center, talks to scorekeepers before the start of the NHIAA Division III boys basketball semifinal game between Conant High School and Kearsarge Regional High School held at Bow High School in Bow, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

International Association of Approved Basketball Officials referee Peter DePalo, center, talks to scorekeepers before the start of the NHIAA Division III boys basketball semifinal game between Conant High School and Kearsarge Regional High School held at Bow High School in Bow, N.H., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report for America photographs — Alex Driehaus

Pete DePalo has officiated Upper Valley sports since 1978. A former Lebanon High baseball player, he has worked soccer, basketball, baseball and softball contests. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Pete DePalo has officiated Upper Valley sports since 1978. A former Lebanon High baseball player, he has worked soccer, basketball, baseball and softball contests. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Baseball umpire Pete DePalo speaks with Hanover High coach John Grainger during a May 26, 2022, game at the Dresden Fields athletic complex in Norwich, Vt. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Baseball umpire Pete DePalo speaks with Hanover High coach John Grainger during a May 26, 2022, game at the Dresden Fields athletic complex in Norwich, Vt. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file — Tris Wykes

Pete DePalo has refereed Upper Valley high school basketball since 1978. The Lebanon High graduate also officiates soccer, softball and baseball. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Pete DePalo has refereed Upper Valley high school basketball since 1978. The Lebanon High graduate also officiates soccer, softball and baseball. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — Tris Wykes

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-22-2024 5:01 PM

Modified: 04-23-2024 10:24 AM


Pete DePalo spent his first 15 years living on Coney Island in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, home of America’s first large-scale amusement park. His family moved to the Upper Valley and his life since has been filled with games.

Soccer games. Basketball contests. Baseball and softball clashes. The 71-year-old has competed and officiated in them all.

The current spring season is DePalo’s 46th umpiring those latter two sports. He’s not exactly sure when he began blowing the whistle during soccer and basketball games, but knows it was more than three decades ago.

“It’s extra income, but I love it,” said the 41-year employee of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, where he’s worked both as a pharmacy technician and orthopedic clinical research coordinator. “It’s kept my cardio fitness good and my mind sharper. I’d probably rust away if I wasn’t doing it.”

DePalo and his distinct New York accent arrived in West Lebanon before his freshman year of high school. His father, Frank DePalo, had grown up in White River Junction before attending the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music and becoming a successful singer. Pete’s mother, Rachel, was raised in West Lebanon.

Grit, skill and hand-eye coordination acquired playing football and stick ball on the Brooklyn streets allowed Pete DePalo to become the starting shortstop and most valuable player for Lebanon High’s 1970 state runner-up baseball team. He improbably played four seasons of soccer at Plymouth State College, where coach Gerd Lutter spotted him in a physical education class.

DePalo’s officiating career began when he was 18 and filled in for a no-show during a youth league game at West Lebanon’s Civic Field. Encouraged by onlookers who said he showed a flair for the job, DePalo began working his way up the ranks.

“When I was young, I thought I had all the authority and you overthink things,” DePalo said. “You come to realize that it’s not about you, it’s about the game, and that the best officials are the ones who never get noticed.”

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DePalo does draw attention, however, for his understated and placid demeanor. Hanover baseball coach John Grainger calls him “the nicest man on any field he’s working” and the arbiter’s friendliness, willingness to explain his calls and poise make him a popular figure.

“He’s an outstanding official in all three sports and an even better person,” said Mascoma athletic director Steve Stebbins. “He talks with the kids, so he’s not seen as the enemy. I love seeing Peter’s name come up for our games.”

DePalo is diminutive and doesn’t officiate with an edge, but there’s no questioning his toughness. Two years ago during a Lebanon boys basketball game, he badly strained a calf muscle but gutted out the final 10 minutes on his healthy leg. Limping badly with an injury that would keep him out for four subsequent contests, he earned a hearty round of applause at the final horn.

“I’m just stubborn that way,” DePalo said. “I’m glad there was only one quarter to go.”

DePalo has ejected only one person at a game and that was a gentleman who, after giving the referees an earful all night, picked up an out-of-bounds ball and refused to return it. As for hecklers, the zebra says he long ago learned to tune them out.

“The people in the stands yelling, most wouldn’t know the rules and their correct application if you asked them,” he said. “They’re cheering for someone and they’re emotional. With the coaches, as the bible says, a gentle answer turns away wrath.”

Chris Matte has refereed local basketball since the mid-1990s and views DePalo, the married father of former Mascoma hoops star Joy DePalo and three other children, as a mentor.

“I’ve never seen him upset but he’s still firm,” Matte said, noting that small touches such as always checking to confirm a partner’s readiness before putting the ball in play are appreciated. “He knows when you feel you made a bad call and he doesn’t let you dwell on it.”

How much longer will DePalo oversee Upper Valley athletic contests? The Lebanon Assembly of God deacon said he’ll rely how he’s feeling physically and spiritually.

“I pray about it every year,” DePalo said. “I want to get off the court when my time is up. But my running and judgment still seem good, so I’m planning to do another year.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.