FISHERS, Ind. — JV baseball players were all ready to play ball Monday, until their game got cancelled hours before first pitch.
Fishers High School Head Baseball Coach Mathew Cherry tweeted out he was “saddened and heartbroken.”
“We’ve never had anything canceled when it was sunny and dry and warm enough to play due to lack of umpires,” Cherry said.
Cherry said he was told around the end of the school day there were not enough umpires to get one to his JV game.
“Short on available bodies that are certified and licensed and able to work high school games,” he said.
The umpire shortage isn’t just hitting high school baseball though. USSSA Softball in Indiana is reporting they are short about 100 umpires.
“Right now we are at 185 registered umpires,” said Time Foster, Indiana’s director of USSSA Softball.
Foster said 10,000 girls play softball in the USSSA program in Indiana each year and he needs about 225 umpires each weekend. He considers full staff to be somewhere between 275 and 300 umps.
Foster said part of the issue is the older generation leaving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some of the older guys that umpired for us, they figured there was life away from softball on the weekends and started taking grandkids fishing and stuff like that,” Foster said.
Foster said it is a two sided issue, though. As they lose umpires they have had for years, they’re having trouble bringing in replacements and keeping them around.
“We see very few each year and they don’t stay long because I think the newer guys and kids don’t have the thicker skin and they cant deal with the parents and coaches sometimes,” Foster said.
Robert Faulkens, the Indiana High School Athletic Association Assistant Commissioner, said this connects to the biggest reason they can’t keep umpires around.
“We can get people in but the problem is after two or three years because of their treatment from fans or players and coaches and whatnot they leave the industry,” Faulkens said.
Across the country this past weekend, two incidents of violence against umpires have gone viral. In Texas, a coach was caught on camera shoving an umpire after being thrown out of little league game. In Mississippi, a mother was arrested for punching a softball umpire and giving the official a black eye.
“There’s not a place for that in youth sports and I definitely think that’s a part of the problem across the country,” Cherry said.
Both he and Foster said they have noticed the growing problem and know it has to stop.
“Coaches coach the game, parent cheer for your kids and let officials do their job,” said Foster.
Treating umpires with more respect could help solve the shortage, Foster said, as could getting more teens into refereeing. ISHAA is now offering a class in almost two dozen high schools across Indiana that takes students through the certification.
“Everything that an adult would go through to become an official is compressed in the high school classroom setting,” said Faulkens.
He said his pitch to high schoolers is easy.
“We always say you can go flip burger for six or eight hours or you can referee a soccer match for two-and-half hours and make the same amount of money,” Faulkens said.
If you would like to become an umpire for USSSA Indiana Softball Foster said you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the USSSA website.
To become an umpire or referee for IHSAA, Faulkens said all you have to do to get started is check out the website.