EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

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.”

Related:

We want to hear from you.

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

Education + Schools

BYU nursing student Jane Pearson smiles before donating her bone marrow in late 2023....

Emma Everett Johnson, KSL.COM

BYU student donates bone marrow to potentially save stranger’s life

BYU nursing student Jane Pearson is donating bone marrow to a stranger through the National Marrow Donor Program.

3 hours ago

Students walk at the University of Utah...

Amanda Dickson

Dickson: Who goes to summer school?

KSL NewsRadio host Amanda Dickson reflects on her first week of teaching summer classes at the University of Utah.

4 days ago

Disagree better toolkit...

Don Brinkerhoff

Local professors create ‘Disagree Better’ toolkit for parents

Professors created "Disagree Better" toolkit which includes free online courses to help parents teach kids ways to handle disagreements.

4 days ago

Samantha Corey poses with several members of the American Fork High School football team....

Kyle Remund

Deceased student will be honored at American Fork High School graduation following outcry

Alpine School District has announced that Samantha Corey, a student whose life was lost to cancer, will now be recognized at the graduation ceremony for American Fork High School.

5 days ago

A fly fisherman casts near snow banks in Big Cottonwood Creek in Big Cottonwood Canyon....

Heather Peterson

Restoring biodiversity to wetlands sites in Salt Lake

Along with the U of U and others, Salt Lake City Public Lands hopes to return biodiversity to the wetlands of the Jordan River watershed.

5 days ago

31 students received their associate's degrees Monday from SLCC's Prison Education Program....

Kyle Remund

Record number of inmates earn degrees through SLCC program

A record number of inmates at the Utah State Correctional Facility received their degree from Salt Lake Community College's Prison Education Program this year.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

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