LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- In the aftermath of the fight at a youth baseball game in Lakewood that ended with one person being seriously injured, umpire organizations say they are having a hard time hiring new employees and that parents and coaches are to blame.
The groups say adults are becoming more hostile to umpires and that it’s discouraging some from applying to work for them or that some employees are leaving as a result.
Gold Crown oversees around 600 officiants for different sporting events. Those employees referee about 12,000 games annually.
Officiating director Brian Lee says instances where parents or coaches harass their employees are happening more frequently.
“We try to do what we can and have a site supervisor there and we try to support our officials as much as we can,” Lee said.
He believes it’s becoming more of an issue not only in Colorado but across the country.
“We’ve had threats. Last year we had to call the police because a couple of parents were throwing baseballs at the umpires,” Lee said.
However, the harassment doesn’t only apply to baseball, according to Lee, and it is happening in sports of all levels.
Meanwhile, USSSA Baseball has created a strict policy of a lifetime ban for anyone who is deemed to display unsportsmanlike conduct or not in the best interest of the kids. It’s also telling its umpires to call 911 immediately if they start to feel uncomfortable.
“It’s unfortunate that we have gotten to that but that’s the environment,” USSSA Baseball regional director Tate Shetterly said.
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Shetterly says he believes the overall environment of umpiring has been in a decline over the past few years and it’s due to the fact that the employees are being harassed. He says while many do not escalate to physical altercations, some of their employees have been followed out to the parking lot.
“If we can’t gather as a group and compete without turning it into mayhem like that, then yeah it’s a safety issue for every one of us,” Shetterly said.
Cliff Baker from Mile High Officials has been an officiant for more than 30 years and says most youth activities don’t have security. There have been instances in some of the older teams where the officiants from his group have been told they need to be escorted to their cars by security staff to keep them from being harassed.
“We do carry insurance to protect people against actions like this,” he said.
Baker says these fights do not happen on a regular basis, but believes they shouldn’t happen at all. Mile High Officials sends site directors to different events to monitor the games and watch their employees. However, Baker says one of the big problems with the shortage of officiants in the state is the pay.
“Colorado is one of the most underpaid states as far as youth sports and high school sports,” Baker said. “You have to increase the pay.”
He believes that by increasing the pay, more umpires would apply to work these games.
Gold Crown is working with the National Federation of High School Associations and the Colorado High School Activities Association to figure out ways to handle these situations.
Part of the reason Lee attributes to the rowdy behavior on the part of the parents has to do with the level of competition.
“There’s a lot more pressure that we are noticing on the kids to be successful in whatever they do, so I think that’s a big part of it,” Lee said.
His group is offering conflict resolution training among other things to help umpires feel prepared to handle situations that arise. Mile High Officials says it is doing something similar to train umpires and referees how to defuse tense situations.
At the end of the day, though, Lee says parents and coaches need to do better.
“We need them to realize it’s about the children at the end of the day and their growth,” he said.