First let me say how thankful I am for anyone who officiates youth sports. You know going in that there is not much money involved so most of you do it for the love of the game and especially for the love of kids. I am also proud to say how proud I have been to be affiliated with the Chattanooga Area TSSAA Umpires Association. You guys are the best and most professional anywhere. Anytime I go elsewhere for a high school sporting event, I always compare the umpires I see to you, and there is always no comparison.
That brings me to the subject of today’s column; unprofessional conduct on and off the field of play. I attended a high school softball tournament this weekend in north Georgia, (I am purposefully leaving out all names and locations to spare embarrassment) and I still can’t believe things I heard or saw. The overall appearance of the umpires was marginal, but the conduct of a few of them was atrocious.
One base umpire in particular was out of position to make calls all weekend long. He tried to stand in one place and officiate plays, and he constantly was in the way and out of position to see. When he was questioned by a coach who said nothing at all in a challenging way and never raised his voice, it was the umpire who “showed up the coach”, motioning him off the field, refusing to get help from the other umpire, and then throwing him out of the game. In Georgia as it is in Tennessee and other states, it is a $250 fine, and a two game suspension. After the game when the umpire was approached by a representative from the offending school to ask him to reconsider the ejection, he refused to speak with him at all.
This behavior was totally and completely unacceptable. This umpire obviously feels that to successfully officiate a game, he needs an ejection or two to show he is in charge, as he ejected a fan from the complex during his next game. I have prepared a list of things all umpires at any level should work on to become better.
1. Fans are not there to see you officiate. They are there to watch the game.
2. Be in control but do not be over-bearing and unapproachable. If challenged by a head coach on any call, allow the coach to ask his question and try to resolve the difference. If a coach asks for help from your partner, don’t be so egotistical as to think he may not have seen it better than you did.
3. Hustle on every play. Always be in position to make the proper call, (in other words, make sure you have the right angle) see the play, analyze it, set your feet and make the call. Always “sell” the call so you will look sure you got it right.
4. Never be afraid of missing calls. Every umpire is going to miss a call or two; we’re all human, but if you’re not sure, ask for help from your partner.
5. Never come to the ball park in a bad mood. If you do, leave your attitude at the gate or in the dressing room. The players and coaches have been working hard and they deserve your best.
6. Look professional. Make sure your uniform is clean, and your shoes are shined. Wear clothes that fit, and that includes your belt. (Don’t wear a belt that is six sizes too big, and a cap that appears to be a couple of sizes too small.)
7. Manage the game but don’t try to dominate it. When the game is over, leave the fans talking about how the players played the game, not how the umpires screwed things up. (Be invisible)
I personally haven’t umpired in the last two years due to health issues, but I have really missed being around the kids and my umpiring buddies. I hope the good Lord will heal me to the point that I can umpire again next spring. If not, I’ll be very happy to help coach, watch as many games as I can, and hang around the games that I love for many years to come. After all, if I can’t give these kids by best effort, I’ll stay off the field, because they deserve it.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have four grandchildren, Coleman, Boone, DellaMae and CoraLee.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org