In March 2022, Jennifer Woof took the field as the only female among a class of 24 volunteers participating in Little League® International’s week-long umpire training academy at its complex in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
However, being the only female attending the rules and mechanics training made her even more determined to get better at something she loves.
“I want to be the best umpire that I can be,” said Mrs. Woof. “I wanted more consistent training, which you clearly get when you eat, breathe, and sleep umpiring for a week.”
When making the decision to umpire, she wasn’t so sure she’d love it. Mrs. Woof decided to try it in lieu of paying a registration fee for her daughter to play softball at Spotsylvania County Little League in Virginia.
“A lot of people are reluctant to start umpiring, and then they get into it and realize how much fun it is.” – Jennifer Woof, Spotsylvania (Va.) Little League
“It was like, ‘Oh, I can, umpire five games and get a free registration,” said Mrs. Woof. “I knew I could do anything for five games.”
But it was bigger than that. Mrs. Woof has always loved the game of softball. She played Little League as a child, and she missed it. She also wanted a way to be involved with her daughter but was hesitant to coach.
“I also knew that because of my relationship with daughter, Grace Ann, it would be best if I did not coach her,” said Mrs. Woof. “And so, I had to figure out how I could be a part of Little League without being directly involved with her team.”
Umpiring was the obvious answer, and it didn’t take long for her to want more.
“I hear it explained a lot as ‘catching the bug,’’” said Mrs. Woof. “A lot of people are reluctant to start umpiring, and then they get into it and realize how much fun it is.”
Mrs. Woof, a member of the Spotsylvania Little League Board of Directors, added umpiring to an already full plate of family-related responsibilities. According to Mrs. Woof, it can be daunting for people, especially women, to be willing to volunteer with so much of your time committed to work and family.
“I’m homeschooling with my eldest, doing high school stuff with her during the day, and then I’m a taxi driver everywhere,” said Mrs. Woof. “People need to know that it’s okay to take a step back when volunteering as an umpire. You don’t have to do a thousand games.”
Mrs. Woof’s first game calling balls and strikes summed up one of the inevitable challenges, she, and other umpires experience when they are also parents of current Little Leaguers®.
She had to ring up her daughter, Grace Ann. “She cried,” Mrs. Woof said with a laugh. “I would definitely suggest having conversations with either your son or your daughter before you get on the field.”
After getting home from that game, Mrs. Woof said her daughter proposed some new ground rules for her mom to consider while she is umpiring behind the plate.
“Grace Ann came to me and said, ‘Mom, you know, I really don’t mind when you’re on the bases. I just rather you not be behind the plate,’” said Mrs. Woof.
Mrs. Woof also said it was a good early reminder in her umpiring career about her priorities.
“My role as mom is really my main role. I juggle my relationship with my daughter and being an umpire.”
Other than the time with her daughter, Mrs. Woof said the best part is how accepting her fellow umpires have been.
“They’ve really taken me under their wing,” said Mrs. Woof. “They’ve been so supportive since the beginning.”