Tito Varela rises as a basketball star and retires as a Caloocan vice mayor (Business Mirror (Philippines))

SOMETIME during his active years in the league, someone claiming to be the late Gregorio Ka Roger Rosal, spokesman for the Communist Party of the Philippines, dispatched a death threat to scare him and, perhaps, sell a basketball game he was officiating.

But it did not or at least make him believe.

If Rosal was a fan, intimidating a professional referee for a basketball violation call was light years away from Leftist politics.

Luis Yaranon Varela, 61, who is more popularly known as Tito Varela, knew it was just a rabid basketball fan who was angered by the defeat of his team.

Fans agree and disagree with you, he said. Those whose team lost the game are likely to disagree.

Varela, sixth among seven children, was born in Samar on January 4, 1954. He was a fifth grader when he went to Manila in 1965.

He graduated from primary at Novaliches Academy (now Metro Manila Academy) in 1967, where he also finished his secondary education in 1971.

Due to his parents’ financial difficulty, he took the job of a security guard at the University of the East (UE) after graduating from high school.

But his height of 6 feet and 1 inch was about to give him the leap of his life. He was invited to try out for the Red Warriors, and eventually played for the team. This gave him a scholarship for Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.

At the age of 19, he played his first amateur game.

After winning two University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) championships and about a year before his graduation, he was drafted to play in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in 1975.

He played for Tanduay, 7Up and Crispa Redmanizers. In 1975 he became part of the Philippine contingent to the Asian Basketball Conference. He retired in 1986, but his basketball career did not end there.

Varela became a professional PBA referee in 1988. Although a referee should not favor a team, a player, or a coach, he highly esteemed some for being professionals.

I liked one team coach who would confront me for a call, but after the game, he would speak to me warmly, he said. Some coaches take it personally and bear it for a long time.

He still remembers some disappointed fans removed one of his car tires.

Following 13 years of running after game-court violators, he finally retired from the PBA in 2001.

I raised and educated my children and sustained my family on basketball, he said.

He has four children: Two finished medicine, one finished commerce, the other an information- technology course.

He was elected to the city council of Caloocan for one term in 1988 while still a PBA referee. As a councilor, he worked with non-governmental and people’s organizations.

In 2001 he was elected Caloocan City vice mayor, a position he held for three consecutive terms until 2009.

As a presiding officer of the city council, he could not propose any resolution, he said. The position is limited to presiding sessions.

A role something like you are a referee, he said.

He last held public office in 2006 as the vice mayor of Caloocan. By this time, he was supposed to be enjoying his retirement back in the province with his wife, Margie.

Someone is encouraging me to run again for public office, he said. If I do, it will be for seniors.

He is currently involved in the physical-fitness program of the senior citizens of Caloocan. He teaches and encourages them to stay fit through dancing.

Aerodance is fit and safe for seniors, which is the basic of ballroom dancing, he said.

Varela is thankful to everyone who has been around him from his days in UE, to the PBA and to public offices. He returns the blessing he and his family had received by helping others.