Sitting here today, I can't believe I actually earned my way through college partially by umpiring softball games.
It was nearly 30 years ago, but I still remember being the object of wrath for coaches and mostly, over-zealous parents. The money was good but eventually, after 2 or 3 summers of abuse I had had enough. It was all I could do to not climb into the stands and respond to the insults and taunts with more than just angry words.
The reason I'm writing this is because I had a flashback last night, one motivated by an incident at my daughter's junior softball game. The ump was a high school or early college-aged girl likely just trying to make a few bucks for school or maybe, hone her chops to officiate at a higher level.
Midway through the game, she made a dubious call. The coaches on the opposing team accepted it with level heads, going above and beyond to do the right thing and make sure their players didn't complain or blame. I complimented one as he ran back to the bench after their ups were done.
Her second trip over the rules lit the fuse. Our bench had been warned about throwing bats earlier in the game, theirs had not. One of their hitters tossed her bat after swinging, and the ump called her out.
This time, coach voices were raised, and an argument ensued. The game stopped, and players and parents cringed. The cherry on the sundae is when one dad, red faced and veins popping, charged up to the backstop and began screaming at the top of his lungs. Something about a travesty, and it's 'all on her'. He gestured at her in an extremely threatening way, before backing up about ten feet and making sure the young ump was aware of his 'menacing presence'.
Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you... they were up by about 20 runs at the time.
As a guy who has coached my daughters in hockey and soccer for years, I'm the first to admit I've ground on a ref a time or two, and expressed displeasure in not-so-subtle ways. In recent years, thanks to some eye-opening clinics I've attended (featuring top-flight officials telling horror stories), I've focused on treating refs with more respect, and handling disagreements over calls in a much more constructive manner.
I'm not coaching at all this summer, and watching from the stands makes it clear to me the problem with over-zealous sports parents and coaches has gotten worse.
So bad, that after last night... there might be one young ump who might decide to hang it up before she even gets started.
(Copyright 2009 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)