To say Spring sports have been dealt a tough hand would be an understatement.
Between the cold and precipitation, local schools have had many hardships getting games in.
But it’s a problem that extends beyond the weather. The loss of umpires is indicative of a larger problem across all levels and local sports.
It’s getting harder and harder to retain officials.
Whether its injury, age or a lack of retaining quality umpires willing to deal with the stress of the position stress sometimes made worse by heckling fans or angry coaches and players the common denominator is that If we keep trending in this direction, there won’t be enough umpires to cover local games.
Whether its football, basketball, wrestling or baseball and softball, one thing is certain at all levels of competition:
“We just simply do not have enough bodies at any level from little league up through high school,” says umpire Dave Glass. “I’m seeing massive shortages for officials, but the bottom line is we are at a crisis stage now.”
But spring sports have been hit the hardest coming out of the pandemic and a vicious spring courtesy of mother nature.
It has put a strain on finding enough umpires to cover baseball and softball games and the ever-changing schedules. Dave Glass has been at this 31 years, and he is one of the younger umps around.
Many are getting older and it takes a toll on the human body.
And if we aren’t able to draw in the next generation of umpires and officials through the proper training and an understanding that they are not perfect, it’s hard to envision a future for baseball and softball at all levels. A problem that local athletic directors saw coming.
“Before the pandemic we knew it was coming, then the pandemic hit, and some older folks got out for health and safety reasons and haven’t come back,” says Bald Eagle Athletic Director Doug Dyke. “So we even lost more than what we would have lost, and you know I’ve had players make comments to me about the umpires, and I’m like you got to get that out of your head, there is only 11 baseball umpires or 12 or whatever for this whole area, so you are going to see these umpires and they are doing the best they can.”
You combine the, at times, thankless profession with a very fluid spring you have the perfect storm.
Elk County Catholic alone has already had 50 plus spring contests altered.
Athletic director and head basketball coach Aaron Straub has seen a trend in recent years.
“I can remember five to 10 years ago, if you had a game canceled on a Monday, you didn’t even think twice about rescheduling for the next day,” says Straub. “Now, the rescheduling process is a little different. You need to check your transportation first to make sure you can get transportation, then you need to check to make sure you can get umpires, the way games are rescheduled now are a little bit different than the way it was five to 10 years ago.”
Glass’s local chapter has lost a few umps to season ending injuries ones that have a lot of games and there just isn’t enough flexibility to accommodate.
Sometimes he himself is working with one or no days off and the problem is two-fold.
“Part of it is on the leagues to make sure we are training them and compensating them for their time, and part of it is on the fans and the entire culture to have a little more grace,” says Glass. “One bad parent or one bad coach can really ruin a game experience”
Fans and coaches alike share a passion for the game and an incredible desire to win thus a fine line is created to harness it in a positive manner
“Natural reaction at times when there is a call made you have to have a little toughness about you, but the relentless complaining you need to nip that in the butt. We hosted state semifinals, I had to stop a game and say no more.”
Straub believes we must continue to remind umpires and officials alike with how vital they are to local sports.
“I think the big way is to continue to push the sportsmanship message, and really don’t allow any un sporting behaviors.”
Around 50 percent of those who take test to officiate at the high school level are lost in 1-2 years to change those retention numbers we must change our appreciation of those giving their time.
“Its like a field goal kicker, you don’t notice them until there’s a bad one or you don’t have one, and its the same thing, we don’t want to be noticed, but if we are not there you are going to notice it, so we need officials”