Indiana is experiencing an umpire shortage for high school baseball and softball, causing many schools to cancel games.
Now the Indiana High School Athletic Association is trying to recruit new umpires.
A representative with IHSAA says this isn’t a new problem caused by the pandemic. The pandemic has certainly made the issue worse, but they have seen a decline in officials over the past several years.
The pandemic has caused many officials to take the year off. The IHSAA says they renew licenses for officials in April, but this time last year they weren’t recruiting people to renew as much due to the pandemic.
“We’ve actually passed the deadline and we’re now into April 1st for ’21-’22 renewals. And what we’ve done is we’re licensing them in ’21-’22 and then retroactively going back and once they pass the background check, passed their exam, we’re going back and for 2021, right now, making them eligible to officiate for our student-athletes,” said IHSAA Assistant Commissioner Sandra Walter.
Walter says now they are down 11% for officials. They are making efforts to recruit, but until those numbers go up, they are still having to cancel games which impacts the students.
“Honestly a teenage kid who gets to practice all week and then never realizes a contest isn’t certainly something that they want to do. That’s not part of the deal when they sign up,” said Walters.
“And we want to offer those opportunities for kids. Competition is good for student-athletes. Whether you won the contest or lost the contest, there’s value in all of that.”
That’s an impact that Mooresville High School Athletic Director Mike Mossbrucker agrees with.
“It’s disappointing. We take a lot of pride in our office to make sure we’ve got people scheduled for events and when that happens it’s a little bit out of our control, but it’s disappointing,” said Mossbrucker.
“Certainly, there’s probably community members who would view that as a failure on our part. While that certainly isn’t the case, at the end of the day it starts and ends with us so we want to prevent that when we can.”
One of the main reasons they lose umpires is because of how they are treated. So, Walter says they are making an appeal to parents and fans to let them do their jobs.
“They’re not perfect. These are human beings asked to be of a perfect level when they reach the court, and they are not going to be. But we certainly continue to train through more video content through our local associations in order to make these folks as good as they possibly can be at their craft for the sake of our student-athletes,” Walter said.
“Look, these folks are coming in after their normal job. They were your mailman all day. They were your plumber that afternoon. And then they head to your basketball court, dawn the whistle and the striped shirt and all of a sudden they become a different human being to you and they really aren’t. They are the same person and now just wanting to give back to your student-athlete.”
And Mossbrucker agrees.
“I think that we’ve got to sell the message to our parents that these people are just here to provide a service to us so that we can participate. Without them, we have no game,” said Mossbrucker.
“That’s difficult some nights because some games are difficult and they have to make some tough calls and it can be heated.”
In an effort to recruit they are offering umpires a free license, waiving the fees and giving a free three-year mentorship program.
There is an online intro class for anyone interested and after that, they will be invited to an in-person clinic in May.
If you’re interested you can find more information here.