DECATUR — Those who would stand in judgment of others must first themselves be judged and found worthy.
The acid test for fastpitch softball umpires is the 2019 Decatur State Umpire School which just wound up its two-day training workshop Sunday at the Decatur Indoor Sports Center.
Some 30 male and female umpires from all over the state paid $50 each for 48 hours of intensive training hosted by the USA Softball of Illinois Umpires organization. That meant learning from a team of expert instructors supervised by Paul Tomazzoli, the Umpire in Charge for the state of Illinois. With the softball season for kids and adults about to get rolling, there’s a lot at stake for the officials who want to earn the right to interpret the rules.
“If umpires want to work tournaments it’s mandatory that, every fourth year, they have to come through this school,” said Tomazzoli, an umpire with nearly a half-century of experience. “We have a graduation and we give out certificates and, sometimes everybody doesn’t pass; we don’t spend our time here for nothing. We want umpires leaving here to be qualified. Nobody gets a free pass.”
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If you’re good, and in demand, the money isn’t bad. Tournament umpires get $35 a game, with a typical game lasting about 70 minutes. Most seasoned umps will do four or five games a day over a tournament weekend, and so could return home $350 richer.
“I became an umpire because it was a way for me to stay involved in the game,” said Lyle Meador, 56, who retired in June as Deputy Chief of the Decatur Fire Department. “I used to love playing about every night of the week and then I figured out ‘Hey, I can get paid for being at the ballpark as an umpire and still get to stay in the game.' ”
But even in this softball garden of Eden there is a serpent, however. Some of the umpire school teaching deals with handling in-your-face coaches and, increasingly, according to the umpires, the in-your-face protesting parents of younger players. Meador said it’s never easy and, yes, mistakes are made. But he said good training, hard work and, perhaps surprisingly, dress sense, can go a long way to soothing the savage softball breast.
“You’ve got to hustle out there in the game and you’ve got to look good,” said Meador, an umpire for 30 years. “If you are wearing a nice, crisp clean hat, your shoes are clean and you just show up looking like an umpire, you are going to gain a little bit more respect right off the bat.”