My pitch

The cause of RI's umpire shortages

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Last week I wrote an article regarding the alarming drop in local umpires and referees over the past few months here in Rhode Island.

After talking to a handful of people in the local officiating community, it was quite clear why they believe that the numbers have plummeted.

Whiners.

They weren’t quite as blunt and offered other reasons as to why they have struggled to maintain a consistent umpiring roster, but the underlying tone seemed to be a negative one towards the parents and coaches that they deal with while at work.

I hate giving you a not-so-sexy take here, but I see it both ways.

On the one hand, I feel that umpires need to have a thick skin because that is the nature of the business. On the other, I think parents and coaches need to also understand that local umpires don’t have the luxury of instant replay, and oftentimes don’t have another colleague to give them help on a tough call.

If I had to take a side here, I would side with the officials.

Officiating is rarely a full-time gig. Most umpires do it because they need some extra cash on the side and also just love athletics. However, most umps don’t need to do it, they could just as easily find a part-time job on any street in Warwick.

In my opinion, I feel that coaches have every right to get on an ump (within reason of course) when they disagree with a call. Coaches I believe, should be the only ones that get to voice their opinions to the referee, and anyone else that does it should be warned, then quickly removed.

Part of the reason I love being a sports editor is because I get to see the devotion of fans and parents, and I get to see the excitement on their faces when things go their team’s way. However, like most others, I cringe when I hear “that parent,” screaming at an umpire like a hooligan.

You are in the stands, not on the field, for a reason. Let those that are actually involved deal with it.

I kind of see the coach as the spokesperson the for the team, the true captain. Obviously at the youth and high school level they are more in a supervisory role, but ultimately coaches are the ones that set the example for their teams. Therefore, the only voice a ref or ump should be hearing is the coach’s.

A common theme when speaking to these officials was also the age factor. According to those I spoke to it has been harder than ever to recruit men and women under the age of 30 to get into the business. Is it the sensitive millennial generation? Have parents and coaches become more ruthless?

I believe it’s the first.

Look, I can get away with speaking against the millennial generation because I am part of it. I try my best to not totally assimilate and I personally feel like I am not quite as “millennial” as others my age. I can go an hour, believe it or not I can go multiple hours without checking my phone, I don’t watch MTV, and I also believe in respecting my elders.

Let’s face it, younger people nowadays just don’t handle criticism as well as the older generation. I don’t totally know why, maybe us youngsters have just been pampered more or maybe we just haven’t had to go through what our elders have. We’re just softer.

That is absolutely not me trying to ask for sympathy, it is me simply stating why the millennial generation may not want to offciate. Considering the modest-at-best compensation and the time commitment, as well as the eight-week training, why would anyone want to get their behinds chewed by a bunch of overly-aggressive parents in the stands?

I believe the easiest way to address this issue is to come up with stricter rules with parents and fans speaking out against umpires. It’s easier said than done, but I bet you could sell umpiring to the young crowd if they know coaches are the only ones criticizing their performance.

I can’t stand whiners. Don’t blame a call, don’t blame the weather. To win a game, the athletes on the field and coaches steering the ship must outplay and outcoach the opposition. To blame a loss on anything other than performance is petty, even if once in a great while there was an outside factor.

Umpires should be able to make some cash on the side while also helping local athletes and coaches play the games they love, while not having to be cussed at and demeaned. Once in awhile I feel like a ref or ump should suck it up but make no mistake about it … whiners in the stands and on the sidelines are why the numbers are dropping.

Let’s play nice, plain and simple. Refs and coaches need to play as a team and silence the rowdy parents, while also respecting one another.

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