BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — The most important call for a baseball umpire isn’t about being right or wrong — it’s being honest on the field.
That goes for whether you’re umpiring in the major leagues or Little League, Brett Williamson told a group of aspiring umps on a recent morning at Jackson Creek Middle School.
“We don’t lie, we don’t make stuff up. All we have is our integrity,” Williamson told the group of some 20 boys and one girl.
The middle schoolers, many of whom grew up playing baseball, are training to become umpires this summer for the Bloomington Junior League Baseball Association. They will primarily call games for 6- to 8-year-olds just starting out in the sport.
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David Pillar, Jackson Creek principal, said the program is a great way for kids to gain summer employment while learning more about baseball and softball. Umps can expect to make between $12 and $15 per hourlong game.
“Plus, they’re old enough now at 13 and 14 years old to handle the responsibility,” Pillar said.
Eighth-grader Aidan King said that if he’s hired, this would be his first job.
“I joined the class because I heard the teacher was really cool and the atmosphere, a lot of my really good friends are in here,” he said. “I feel like we’re learning a lot, and this is setting us up for a great summer job.”
It was encouraging for Williamson to see so many kids interested in the profession. When he was 10 years old, he used his allowance money to purchase the major league baseball rule book and began umpiring neighborhood pickup games.
Professionally, he started umpiring softball in 1996 for USA Softball and the Indiana High School Athletic Association. He’s umped games in the USA vs. Canada Border Battle games, for the Men’s USA Military Championships and at the Canadian Men’s Championships. Williamson has called state title games, has taught the USA Softball Rookie Umpire School for the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department since 2010 and is a lead instructor for the IHSAA’s certification clinics.
In his long career, Williamson has seen firsthand the national shortage of umpires, especially in the youth ranks.
“There’s a huge umpire shortage across youth leagues all across the nation,” Williamson said. “It’s becoming a genuine problem.”
Much of that shortage can be attributed to people getting tired of verbal abuse from parents on the sidelines, Williamson said. Local leagues have an adult on hand ready to step in to defend young umpires, he added.
Brayden Blevins, a seventh-grader in the umpire class, said his older brother was a youth umpire who once had a large, angry parent yell at him. That won’t deter him from following in his brother’s footsteps, he said, and he enjoyed learning how to be an umpire.
The potential future umpires have met three times now. During the first session, they learned how to make proper hand signals when calling base runners out or safe. Williamson gave them permission to practice in the hallways between classes, but not to yell when they do so. Some have been doing both.
The middle schoolers have also been taught about proper positioning while in the field during certain situations, such as where to stand during an in-field ground ball or fly ball deep to the outfield. During this most recent session, they ran around the gymnasium, combining their prior lessons and making calls as loudly as they could, the echo combining with the laughter of their peers.
Grace Morris, the only girl in the class, plays softball and loves baseball. Umpiring for the summer made sense. Are the boys giving her a hard time?
“Surprisingly, no,” she said with a smile. “I’m having a lot of fun.”
In two weeks they’ll find out if they’ve passed the class and, as a result, will have a summer job on the baseball diamond.
“I know it doesn’t pay well, and it’s probably going to be for 8-year-olds, but it seems like a good start,” eighth-grader Jack Feinstein said. “Maybe if I’m good at it and enjoy it, I could umpire at a higher level someday. I think that’d be fun.”
Source: The (Bloomington) Herald Times
Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com