While Little League® is most commonly known for the stories of baseball and softball players on the field, it is the men and women in blue that often get to teach some of life’s most valuable lessons that are learned on and off the ballfield.
And for a group of veteran umpires throughout Little League’s West Region, a series of youth umpire clinics and Junior Umpire Programs offer a way for these umpires to share their knowledge of the game, as well as lessons on life, including the importance of volunteering and battling through adversity.
“This started out as something that these individuals felt would be beneficial to train youth umpires and it has since morphed into more than just rules review, mechanics clinics, umpire philosophy, and game management,” said Mark Bernstein, Little League West Region Umpire-in-Chief. “We have some fantastic, dedicated volunteer adult umpires that have an incredible passion to share their knowledge and a desire to make it beneficial for the younger umpires. It’s what this program is about. It’s about volunteerism, and if we can get more young people involved, they are going to be better parts of our community.”
Ranging from classroom-style settings, that include PowerPoint slideshows and video examples, to roundtable discussions at local restaurants, or the traditional on-field experience that goes over mechanics and scenarios, these veteran umpires offer interested 12- to 16-year-olds tips that can help them make the calls on the field once the first pitch is thrown. However, for these instructors, the skills they teach these young umpires are often times about more than just what happens inside the lines.
“It’s not just about the umpiring to me,” said Peter Leuty, Washoe Little League Umpire (Reno, Nev.). “It’s more about teaching these kids to be responsible, to be respectful, and to understand that there are consequences to their actions. It’s about creating young, responsible adults, and we get to do that through umpiring.”
Along with the educational resources that these umpires offer, a major component that they provide is the ability to oversee, mentor, and continually educate the youth umpires each and every night during games. Whether it is the Umpire-in-Chief or a former youth umpire who came back to volunteer now as an adult, the most important thing that these veterans have found is to continue to support and educate these young umpires to make sure they have a positive Little League experience.
“We need to make sure that each of these youth umpires gets to the next game and has a positive experience,” said Gary Graupmann, California District 31 Umpire-in-Chief. “We don’t want to have these kids in a position where there is a parent or coach screaming and it leaves a bad taste in that kid’s mouth. We make sure to work with the local managers, coaches, Boards of Directors, and parents to make sure that the kids have an environment that they can do what they’re doing, without the fear of being harassed.”
Thanks to the educational resources provided, as well as the dedicated support of these veteran umpires, a number of leagues are seeing the number of interested young umpires continue to grow as they work to develop the future of our world.
“I don’t even need to advertise anymore because other kids get to see what these young umpires are doing and they want to get involved,” said Bill Kosmas, Anacortes (Wash.) Little League Umpire-in-Chief. “It’s all about building leadership in my community and training the future mayors, councilmen, and leaders on how to be responsible citizens and use authority and responsibility correctly.”
For those members of the West Region that have seen their youth educational programs succeed within their leagues, it all began with the dedication and will to want to get it started, and since then it has become an important part of their community.
“It’s all about being a part of a community and you get to feel like part of a family,” said Wayne Yoshitomi, California District 52 umpire, who got his start with Belmont-Redwood Shores Little League. “It’s really important that the league's chief umpire and board members go out there and give positive feedback to show the young umpires that they do care and that they have their backs.”