In Parents' Role in Youth Sports

This story was recently sent to me. It’s a fitting and elegant retribution to those in youth, junior and high school sports who take it upon themselves to loudly criticize during-game officiating.

It was one of those real hot sunny Saturday afternoons that very rarely occur in the Seattle area. On the youth baseball diamond were two teams of 9 & 10 year old boys. In the stands were parents from both teams along with assorted other family members and friends.

At this age the young pitchers are not known for the accuracy of their pitches. It seemed that the game was taking a long time because of all of the walks being issued. Not only were the kids getting tired in the heat (you had to feel sorry for the catchers, always having to get up and chase the wild pitches) but the “fans” were becoming over-heated as well.

You’ve probably heard of parents who pay more attention to the game than the kids actually playing it. I can tell you that this is certainly true. On this particular day, the combination of the heat and a hot-headed father of one of the boys on the opposing team, made for more misery than usual. As is typical of most vocal parents, this dad saw every call that went for his boy’s team as great and every call that went against the team as a travesty of justice.

As part of our league, parents were made to volunteer for some duty at some time during the season. This could be manning the snack bar, assistant coaching, team parent or umpiring games. We did not pay any of the umpires, they were all volunteers.

The ump behind the plate was a friend of mine and he and I had coached together and as opponents for a couple of years. He was doing our game because his son had played a game earlier in the day.

As you can imagine, the heat under the umpire’s gear and the verbal heat from the stands served to shorten the temper of our volunteer home plate umpire. The ump was normally very outgoing and made friend’s quickly on the ball field. But today he was getting quieter and quieter as time went on and I was starting to worry about what he may do about the situation with the father who was constantly riding him and complaining about his decisions.

The breaking point finally came between innings when the father again started in, loudly enough for everyone to hear, asking questions like ‘Do you think his glasses are thick enough so he can see the pitches?’ and ‘Does that mask he wears cover his eyes?’.

I looked for my friend on the field but could not find him. Searching everywhere, I finally spotted him and to my horror, saw that he was making his way off the field through the other team’s dugout. He was headed straight for the stands and I knew he was going to go after the loud mouth. I was frozen in my place in our team’s dugout, trying to figure out a way that I could beat him to the stands and stop him before something really unpleasant happened. Of course there was no way to do it. I was too late!

By now, both sets of fans had seen the umpire reach the foot of the bleachers and were starting to get apprehensive as to what was taking place. Once he reached the bleachers he stepped up on the first row of seats and a path leading up to the offending father started to open up like a parting of the Red Sea. People were pushing and shoving, trying to get out of the way and I knew that a riot was about to start.

What happened next is what makes this so memorable.

The umpire reached the same row as the father and turned around towards the field. Looking down at the boys who were at their positions but just standing there, he yelled ‘Play Ball’ and promptly sat down next to the father. We all, kids and adults, were stunned into silence.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably just a few seconds, the umpire loudly said ‘Since someone seems to think that he can see the pitches better from here than I can from behind the plate, I thought it best to call the game from up here.’ After a few more seconds of silence, the place erupted with laughter and a tense situation was successfully defused.

Every time I hear about some parent attacking a referee, umpire, coach or another parent I recall this story and remember how one good guy used humor instead of violence to make a mole hill out of what could have been a mountain.


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