The Umpires Strike Back!

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With no officials, there are no games.

The Umpires Strike Back!

By John Cardullo

They are neither participants or fans, but they partake and admire the game, whichever game they are involved in. They are unimportant and unassuming, but they are some of the most important influences of any sporting contest, and although they are unassuming they play one, if not the biggest, role in every competition. They are the officials, in some sports they are simply known as either umpires or referees, but in every competition the are they most important person on the field, court, or ice.

Most officials started out as being fans and athletes then graduated to becoming officials. "I became an umpire because I loved the sport of men's softball and when my playing days were over, I thought about why not becoming an umpire,” says slow pitch umpire Mike Cardillo who has been umpiring for 20 years. "It's a great part-time job and it keeps you connected with the sport you played when you were younger, and in some cases the sport that you still play at another level," Cardillo went on to say.

In many cases officials begin with lower level competition in their chosen sport and gradually move to the upper level There are some officials who will preside over multiple sports. "It's not that uncommon for those umpiring men's slow pitch softball to be doing girls fast pitch softball, or even baseball" Jim Hayworth, a long-time multi-sport official, added. "If you can balance the schedule, you can do up to 10 to 12 games a week. You may do softball games on a weekend morning then go over to do some little league baseball and finish up working a travel fast pitch girls’ tournament." Hayworth said.

Although most officials do a very good job there are down sides to being an official. Cardillo says, "every call effects one side in a positive way and the other side in a negative way, and depending on the situation, and how you handle it, it can mean the difference of an escalating situation that could explode or defusing that situation into a sporting contest.” During the heat of competition sometimes the players and coaches forget it's a game, and that there will be a winner and a loser. But there are times where things between teams and official turn nasty. “That's when it's not so much fun.

Sometimes teams think we have it ‘in’ for a certain team when in actuality all we are doing is getting the call correct." Umpire Frank Silva told me, "most of the time we have no idea who hit the ball or who is running; we are anticipating and getting into position to make the call. What the players don't realize is that there are three teams in the game - them, their opponent, and yes, the officials. We have our own signals and we must communicate, or mistakes will occur and that is when the teams really begin to have problems with the officials. There is always a game going on within the game, and when the officials are on, and working as one, they have a tendency of blending into the fabric of the game and that’s perfect!"

The biggest problem for all officials especially starting at the youngest level until high school is in most cases the parents. If you do a poll of those officials they will agree that parents are the biggest concern. The officials are the reason their kid’s team lost, or a bad call cost their kid the game. While all sports keep growing the shortage of officials are becoming alarming. More and more officials don't want the abuse by the parents and fans. In some cases, officials get called names, they get threatened, and even sometimes they get attacked by parents or fans coming onto the field to confront them. Most recently a 13-year-old boy who was umpiring a little league level game was physically attacked by parents, which caused the stand emptying onto the field and brawling. The entire incident was recorded, and criminal charges are being made. This is unacceptable at any level, but the images of this happening are becoming almost a daily headline in the news.

It's ok for parents to support their child’s team, but to go onto a playing surface at any time to confront an official is not ok. Other than pulling the plug on the league from competitive play, drastic steps may have to be implemented such as banning all spectators from coming to the contest or banning those who display any chronic bad form attending sporting events. In 98% of the cases, the athlete will not go beyond to play in college, and less in the minor leagues, and even less in any pro level. It's time to take the sport back to where it began, as a fun recreational sport for everyone to play. Let the players play and officials do their job because the alternative is with no officials there are no games.

John Cardullo, sports writer, RINewsToday