America has an umpire shortage. Unruly parents aren’t helping

May 18, 2023, 9:30 AM

The new labor shortage: Little league umpires.Mandatory Credit:	Theo Wargo/Getty Images...

The new labor shortage: Little league umpires. Mandatory Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

NEW YORK (CNN) — As the sun sets on another Little League game in America, 11-year Jack Wood, whose team just lost its recent game — and its first-place position — is still glowing with pride.

“Baseball is just, like, very fun, I want to go to the MLB,” said Wood, who plays on the town, travel, and club teams in Ramsey, New Jersey.

But sometimes that fun is ruined, not by losing a game, but by adults.

Videos of parents and coaches verbally and physically assaulting umpires have gone viral. In one Little League game in Alabama, a coach was seen grabbing an umpire and throwing him to the ground, while kids looked on in bewilderment.

In another viral video, parents in Texas aggressively yelled at an umpire, who ended the game early over the disruption.

“This is a game for your kid, you want to argue balls and strikes for little league games?” the umpire can be heard shouting back to the parents.

The uptick in abuse against umpires and referees in youth sports has had a dramatic impact. There is a nationwide umpire shortage. Many umpires retired during the pandemic, but others have just had enough.

“It’s very sad to see because it takes away from the game. The kids — it’s something that they shouldn’t have to see. Because now that’s something that they think is okay,” said Carl Kearney, a 21-year veteran umpire in New Jersey.

Since 2017, the number of baseball and softball umpires in the Babe Ruth youth baseball and softball league has been on the decline — with 6,229 in 2017 falling to 4,995 in 2022, according to the National Umpire Association. Between 2018 and 2022, youth sports lost nearly 20,000 umpires at the high school level, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“The kids are the victim of their parents’ actions. The kids don’t like it. They’re totally embarrassed,” said John Dugan, president of Ramsey Baseball and Softball Association in Ramsey, New Jersey.

Dugan says he’s never had a physical altercation between an umpire and a parent at one of his games — but situations have gotten heated. He’s had to step in between a parent and an umpire and has suspended parents up to several games to the entire season for bad behavior.

“There’s an expectation that every game is do or die for their kids’ future in this sport,” said Dugan.

An art to arguing

Mike Wood, father to a Little Leaguer in Ramsey, New Jersey, says he’s had his fair share of arguments with umpires, but things have never gotten physical.

“There is an art to arguing with umpires — you let them know under your breath you disagree with the call,” said Wood, who is also a softball coach in town.

At one of his son’s games, he consistently disagreed with an umpire, who ultimately suggested he leave the game. He didn’t, but it settled him right down.

“The umpire said if you don’t like the way I am calling the game you can leave,” recalls Wood. “‘I’m not going to leave. It doesn’t mean I enjoy the way you are calling the game,” Wood told the umpire.

But Wood says he respects umpires, especially as they deal with back talk from parents and coaches. The average pay for a youth umpire is $45 to $85 a game, according to the Babe Ruth League.

Kelly Peterfriend, who also has a son in Ramsey’s Little League, says she gets most animated during her son’s soccer games.

“I’ve been told by the coaches to try to be a little quieter and they say ‘please calm down, you are getting too loud.’ Sometimes they will give me a look and I know what they mean,” Peterfriend said.

Bad behavior from parents stretches to other sports like softball and basketball – which are also short umpires and referees.

Parents can shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for youth sports. That can up the ante when it comes to games.

“The more money you put into something – the more invested the parents are as well,” said Wood.

Trying to have fun

Evan Peterfiend, Kelly’s son, says he is in the zone when he plays baseball. Of all the players, he spends the most time with the umpire in his position as catcher. He says he is rarely distracted by fans, parents, or friends — but has seen parents yell at the umpires.

“If he gets a little nasty and a little ugly, I ask the coaches to manage that, otherwise I have to stop the game. And nobody wants that,” said Kearney.

Especially not the players. Evan says a game stop can mess up his flow.

“They [parents] should be excited and focused on the game. But when they talk to the umpires and yell at the calls, I think that’s a little unnecessary,” said Evan Peterfriend.

For many Little Leaguers they just want to have fun. And an umpire is key to that. Jack Wood, who is also a catcher, says he’s become friendly with at least one umpire in town.

“An umpire is important because he’s the one making all the decisions and the calls on the field and if there wasn’t an umpire, it wouldn’t be good,” said Jack Wood.

Part of the effort to recruit more umpires is getting younger generations interested. Mike Wood, who is Jack Wood’s father, has stepped in as a parent umpire when the shortage played out in real time. He says he wouldn’t want the job full-time though because it’s not “worth the aggravation.”


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Education + Schools

Utah Valley University started their Police Academy back in 1996 and this year, the school had more...

Aubri Wuthrich

UVU Police Academy has more women graduating than ever before

Female officers tend to use less force and are good at de-escalating situations and using communication techniques.

19 hours ago

AI being used to detect guns...

Allessandra Harris

AI used to detect guns and keep schools safe during shooting situations

From writing essays to generating art, now AI is detecting guns and helping keep schools safe in shooting situations.

2 days ago

A legal analyst in Utah said that nobody intended a Utah law to be used to remove the Bible from sc...

Aimee Cobabe

Davis schools remove Bible from certain school shelves

A Davis district review of the Bible found it didn't meet the "sensitive materials" definition in Utah, and it was returned to high schools.

2 days ago

(Amanda Dickson/KSL NewsRadio)...

Amanda Dickson

Dickson: For the parents of the class of 2023 graduates

The parents of the class of 2023 graduates deserve some kudos — as do the graduates themselves.

2 days ago

School is out for many Utah students, which also means families are trying to figure out meals with...

Adam Small

Utah Food Bank needs volunteers for growing demand

The Utah Food Bank says inflation has kept up the demand for food services brought on by COVID-19.

2 days ago

File - Harvard University students celebrate their graduate degrees in public health during Harvard...


Paying back student loans, when the pandemic payment freeze ends

A three-year pause on student loan payments will end this summer regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the White House plan to forgive billions of dollars in student loan debt.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Group of cheerful team members high fiving each other...

Visit Bear Lake

How To Plan a Business Retreat in Bear Lake This Spring

Are you wondering how to plan a business retreat this spring? Read our sample itinerary to plan a team getaway to Bear Lake.

Cheerful young woman writing an assignment while sitting at desk between two classmates during clas...

BYU EMBA at the Marriott School of Business

Hear it Firsthand: 6 Students Share Their Executive MBA Experience at BYU’s Marriott School of Business

The Executive MBA program at BYU offers great opportunities. Hear experiences straight from students enrolled in the program.

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and gates.

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...

Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer.

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy.

America has an umpire shortage. Unruly parents aren’t helping