We have had 2 weekends in May and the first one was completely rained out on the east side of the state. Adult leagues around the state started 3 weeks ago and some just started this week. Youth leagues are the same, with some not starting until school is out. It is the early part of the season and hopefully, our umpires are busy at home with the yard, graduation, etc. Because right now our leagues and tournaments are short of umpires and in some cases, working one man by necessity.
We already have tournaments that are in need of umpires. We had 3 youth tournaments played last weekend, one in Spearfish and 2 in Sioux Falls. Umpires from as far away as Watertown, Chadron, Dickinson, and Gillette were called this weekend to see if they would be interested in traveling to Spearfish for an invite.
The youth tournaments in Sioux Falls last weekend are playing with a one-man crew with no breaks, 4 in a row, in the younger age groups. They started hoping that some umpires from another tournament swing over once their games are done to help in the afternoon.
Corky’s, a premier adult slowpitch tournament for years in Minnesota, reports say they played some games this year with a one-man umpire system in some divisions. Almost every league that has started has played games with one-man umpired games this spring.
We have tournaments in SD later this summer that is concerned about having enough umpires to work their tournament. They are bringing umpires from Omaha and Vegas to Rapid City. Tournaments in the east are using umpires from as far away as Fargo, Omaha, & Hutchinson plus the Twin Cities.
We are asking umpires to drive 400 miles, be on a diamond all day for 2 or 3 days and then drive home only to have to be at work at 7 on a Monday morning. This is after umpiring 5 nights a week, only to do it again the next weekend. By the time the Ringneck and the state tournaments roll around, these guys are tired and worn out. Their part-time job/hobby has become full-time without benefits.
To show you how busy some of these guys are, we have one weekend this summer where we have 4 youth fastpitch and one slowpitch tournament. The tournament directors do a great job of running tournaments, maybe too good of a job as they keep getting more teams that want to play! Each tournament will have a minimum of 35 to 60+ teams at their event. There could easily be 225 or more teams playing a minimum of 4 games each on 36 fields across South Dakota. Ideally, that is a minimum of 108 umpires that will be needed to work 2 on, 1 off.
The following weekend Rick & Aaron are hosting the Rushmore Classic with close to 150 teams on 14 diamonds for 3 full days, plus a tournament in Watertown and another Sioux Falls. Follow with 130 teams at the Ringneck over the 4th of July weekend.
Those events could last past 7 p.m. Sunday if there is no rain, then 6 days later might be even more hectic. King of the Hills in Rapid, Youth Fastpitch State in SF, Youth Slowpitch in Watertown, and over 35 Women’s State could easily see 300 teams playing on 39 fields. With 35% of our umpires being a youth who also play, you can see where the shortage begins.
Those numbers are not counting the tournaments that we do not know about and are not sanctioned, but unfortunately, tournament directors are telling umpires that they are. You guys that are putting these tournaments on and not sanctioning them, I am going to tell you that your homeowner's insurance is not that good.
What is the solution?
At one time I thought it was pay. Not sure if it is anymore. Leagues are paying up to $20 a game for adult slowpitch for a two-man game and up to $30 if one man. Fastpitch leagues are even paying more, in some cases $35 to $40 a game for 2-man. You can time and half that for a single-man game. Some leagues will pay part or all your registration fees. Some give you a uniform allowance and are willing to pay for clinics.
Add to that, almost all games have time limits of an hour in slowpitch and 80 minutes in fastpitch. Some tournaments are feeding you at the diamond plus a daily meal per diem, state mileage one way if bringing out of town umpires (2 or more to a car), plus lodging, two to a room.
So the pay is ok, actually pretty good at times. I understand that it cost $30.00 for an umpire under 18 and $55.00 for adults to register with USA Softball. Youth and adult umpires get the same insurance coverage which includes accident, life, and liability. https://bit.ly/3yKAZAK The coverage is for all sanctioned USA Softball events, that is why we need tournament directors to sanction their tournaments before they are played. You cannot afford not to if an umpire gets hurt.
USA Softball Umpire registration also includes coverage for officiating Scholastic (Middle School, High School, NFHS) and Collegiate (NCAA, NAIA, NJCAA) Softball events. It will not follow umpires when working with other softball organizations. With high school coming in next year, it is even a better deal.
I also realize that USA Softball South Dakota requires a Background check. This $13 expense is also covered in the $55.00 fee. Our State Umpire Association voted a few years ago to have all adult umpires do a background check. They want to make sure of the safety of not only the youth but also the women's game.
National law has now taken it one step farther and required adult coaches and umpires working youth games to also complete the SafeSport program, which you take after registration and background clearance. This course is free, but it is required by a law that Senator Thune introduced.
I certainly hope these courses and fees are not what is holding anyone back from umpiring. As time-consuming as SafeSport might be and as cumbersome as the program is written, in this day and age, it is necessary for your protection and the youth that play. It informs you what not to do, not to say, and to think ahead to keep you out of trouble, no matter how innocent your actions are. Trust me when I say, you have probably done something in the past that if taken wrong, you are risking your reputation and a lot more. I think it should be a requirement for all adults with kids in sports or any extracurricular activities, not just coaches and officials.
There will be some uniform costs and equipment costs, but in your first year or two, you can keep that down unless you are looking to do championship play. A portion of the registrations goes back to the umpire association to keep the cost of clinics down when USA Softball SD brings in instructors from around the country.
So what can we do to make sure we have umpires? There probably is not one solution, but many.
We need to encourage ball players to umpire one or more nights a week. We need more umpires for leagues and current ball players could be the solution. If some of our tournament Blue could get one or two nights a week off, it may stop some of the burnout. Seven days a week for 13 to 15 weeks is too much for anyone on any job. If ball players would ump one night a week, it would give Blue a break.
We need more young people. A lot of the youth leagues are getting players as young as 14U to umpire the 8U, 10U, and 12U. But we need more and we need to pay them the same as what it would cost if an adult was umpiring. Then coaches and fans need to respect them the same as you would if Riz was umpiring. That way maybe they will continue working when they are adults. When I work clinics for the youth, I tell them If there is a rulebook question you are not sure about, bring the coaches out and talk it over and ask for help. Nothing wrong with that, as an umpire we want to get the call correct. But coaches, do not try and intimidate. Let the young umpires decide after explaining the rule. If they get it wrong, live with it. Gives you a chance to use a teaching moment to your team also. And please control your parents.
Recruit college and tech kids to become umpires. College-age kids are always looking for summer work, right? College kids like to work outside for the most part, right? College kids like to sleep to noon, I don’t need to ask right on this one, I had 4 college-age kids at one time. And college-age kids like money. All games are outside, none start before 5 or 6 at night, and the pay is anywhere from $20.00 up to $40 an hour. If they blow a call once in a while, which they will then live with it, they are going to get some wrong. We all do!
It is our job as players, league directors, UICs, and commissioners to make sure that we realize the Blue is a necessary part of the game and that they are one of us. We need to step in when a teammate or a fan gets out of hand. Maybe that teammate had one too many beverages, a bad day at work, or things are not going well at home, it happens. But we need to step in and say enough is enough. Back the Blue, right or wrong, move on.
We also need to recognize that the guy or gal in the blue shirt might be having that same type of day once in a while. Just got ripped apart by a boss or a customer, found out a parent, spouse or friend received some bad medical news, etc. You can recognize that pretty quickly if paying attention. Give them some space and an encouraging word on those days. I will guarantee they will not have many of those days, but if they do, show a little support their way, it will be appreciated.
We need to reach out to officials of other sports and talk them into trying softball. Softball is probably a quicker game than any other game they officiate. I heard from an umpire last week that said no one has reached out to him to umpire this year. He also has official friends who do other sports. Have him be a recruiter. Maybe he can recruit some of those guys a couple of nights a week. We cannot wait for umpires to come up to us; we need to reach out to them.
Gerry Bills and Jesse Stricherz both attend job fairs at local high schools. They had some success, a couple of kids that will do some game this summer. We/I need to do more of that. We as an association also need to contact some of the community colleges and schools and see if we can do an officiating class.
Players we are asking that you give back to the game we all love to play. If it is not by being able to umpire once in a while, which almost all of you could and most of you would probably enjoy. But at the minimum, make sure to let Blue know that we want them to come back to umpire your game the following week. Tell them sometime during the night, whether it is during the game or after, thanks for being here, that e appreciate it.
If you got booted, you probably had it coming, so get over it. Unless it was your wife’s relative who threw you out, then you can let it linger for a week. Seriously though, if you bring the chip back with you the next game or the next night, chances are you will leave again.
If it is the last game of the night, offer the Blue to stop with the team and have a beverage. If he has time he will stop and enjoy the back and forth that goes on in those parking lot bull sessions. If it is a youth game, it will let the kids see that the blue shirt is human. If you see the Blue out some night having a meal or a cold one, stop and say hello. Buy him a beverage or even better, pick up the meal tab. Consider it the same as the $5 tips you give every time you visit a Starbuck for a $7 coffee that should cost a buck and a half.
99% of the umpires love the game as much as those who play. Oh sure there are those who are in it for the cash, but for most the money is secondary. They enjoy the game, the players, and fellow umpires. They like the camaraderie as much as the next guy. They enjoy knowing they make a difference that the game got played because they were there, they want to be part of your game.
We need everyone’s help on this! Thanks for considering.
Here is an article by Eric A Yancy, MD
They are rapidly becoming an endangered species. They are hunted, tracked, and abused. They are sports referees and umpires.
National statistics reveal that over the last three years 50,000 high school referees (20% of the workforce) have quit. The main reason cited is abuse, both emotional AND physical by coaches, players, and parents. What ridiculous lessons for our children.
Maybe it really was a bad call. At times life makes bad calls. Childhood cancer is a bad and unfair call as well. But watching a parent being taken off the field in handcuffs because they attacked a referee could scar a child for life.
Statistics also show that 70% of children quit all sports by age 13! The biggest reason given: it’s just not fun anymore. A called strike three for a ball 4 inches off the corner is a bad call. The child will remember it for about 10 minutes. But with encouraging words the game can still be fun.
Winning is NOT the only goal of amateur sports. So many other lessons SHOULD be taught; teamwork, cooperation, the realization that everyone has different levels of skill, AND how to win with poise and how to lose with dignity!
But if game after game is canceled, because no one wants the abuse of officiating, then LOSING is all there is. Encourage a official the next game you attend. The children need to see that. The players need to play!!