By Tom Mauldin - 9-27-2021
Three Fastpitch Northwest softball players have a new appreciation for umpires after getting experience seeing the profession up close and personal as umpires themselves.
“My appreciation for umpires has increased so much,” said senior Bend High School softball player Violet Loftus. “They are out there working just as hard as the players are and they are running and hustling and paying attention to everything.”
Senior Emma Sullivan echoed her teammates' perspectives. "I do have a greater appreciation for what they do and their hard work. I no longer question umpires or get angry at them because I (now) understand their point of view."
Both added umpiring is “a lot more stressful and difficult” than they thought.
It didn’t take much to convince the Lava Bear girls that umpiring is difficult. But as the saying goes — ‘somebody’s got to do it.’ In this day and age, the numbers for officials are declining from coast to coast.
And somebody better, indeed, do it. The girls also said it was fun and rewarding. And they were honored to umpire.
Recruiting for officials has become almost a full-time job. The OSAA (Oregon Schools Activities Association), WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) and the NFHS (National Federation of High School Sports) promote and plead almost weekly the need for more officials.
All the organizations are broadcasting the “urgent need” for officials in all sports, not just softball.
Sullivan and Loftus, along with junior teammate Sophia Weathers, participated in Fastpitch Northwest’s August College Exposure tournament and played in the championship Oregon Royals team. Weathers and Loftus made the All-Tournament team and will be heading to the City of Lights Tournament in Las Vegas as they represent Fastpitch Northwest.
The trio was recruited last spring by umpire Dennis Chaltraw after he umpired Bend High School’s 3-1 victory over Sheldon in Eugene.
"After officiating the amazing game between Bend and Sheldon (Sheldon was 15-0 at the time, Bend 14-1), and seeing the wonderful sportsmanship displayed by the Lava Bears in their extra-inning, 3-1, win, I knew I had found my officials for the summer ball somewhere on that team."
Chaltraw is head of Oregon’s JAG umpire crew associated with USA Softball of Oregon. With an expansion of youth girls tournaments planned in Oregon and the ever-growing umpire shortage, he is always in recruiting mode.
Following the game, Chaltraw reached out to Lava Bear coach Tom Mauldin and Bend High athletic director Lowell Norby about the possibility of BHS players umpiring.
Once Chaltraw had been given permission to contact the players, the process began to get the girls trained and on the field. Training began with JAG softball officials Kelli Demianew, Faith Tuttle and Chaltraw.
“The Rookies,” as Chaltraw calls them, made their debut working the bases at the Redmond High Desert Classic in early June.
"Although they were a bit nervous before the first game, their experience as upper-division softball players quickly took over as they were able to read the plays and anticipate where the ball was going next," said Chaltraw. "They were exceptional for their first time on the field."
Umpiring isn't simply calling balls or strikes or making calls on the bases. It's about positioning, anticipating, and knowing all aspects of the games.
“It’s about you and your partner … making the right call in the right position,” said Tad Cockerill, head of the Central Oregon Umpires Association. “It’s about the raw emotion of competitive sports.”
The Lava Bear trio understands the "raw emotion of competition," but the learning curve from player to official was huge. All three said they had moments when they were "tested."
”There are definitely a lot more little details to umpiring than I thought there were,” said Sullivan.
“I was yelled at by a few coaches on the sidelines, and I had a couple of my calls questioned,” said Sullivan. “But only one of them was changed because my plate umpire had a better view.
“I kept my cool and simply asked my partner what their thoughts were, whether they agreed with me or not,” she said. “I didn’t ever let coaches’ anger get the best of me or intimidate me in any way.”
Chaltraw said the hardest thing for “rookies” is to “sell an out” or “sell a safe.” He said umpires must make a strong, convincing call one way or the other.
“It didn’t take them long to realize that their enthusiasm when making these close calls really is designed to reward the defense or the reward the offense on a fine play,” said Chaltraw.
No one is simply born to umpire. It’s a learned profession.