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Shortage of umpires impacting grassroot sports

Regardless of the level of play, being an official or umpire is a difficult task. Sometimes the difference between a ball or a strike, a block or a charge and a reception or a dropped pass can determine the outcome of a game.

At the high school and middle school level in Minot, there has been a shortage of umpires and officials for quite some time. According to Joel Lawson, who helps schedule umpire availability for local fast pitch softball games, he estimates there has been a dwindling number of local umps for at least the last decade. Currently, Lawson manages a crew of just five umpires. This staff must juggle the scheduling needs of softball events for schools such as Minot High, Bishop Ryan, Glenburn and Des Lacs-Burlington at both the junior varsity and varsity levels.

“This is nothing new in terms of being short staffed, it’s just that the need for more umpires is even more apparent because of the addition of so many more teams in the area,” Lawson tells The Minot Daily News. “And this problem isn’t just with softball, we need officials for baseball, football and basketball as well.”

Lawson believes part of the problem may have to do with scheduling conflicts as a large amount of softball and baseball doubleheaders begin in the afternoon before the workday has finished, which limits the availability for many working adults. In addition, Lawson, a retired schoolteacher, cites a noticeable lack of umpire participation from younger working professionals as cause for concern.

“It’s really been an on-going question across the state as to how we can incentivize younger people to pitch in and do this for the community. The pay is pretty good, so I don’t think that is one of the main problems as far as recruiting new umpires is concerned. We’ve kicked around some other ideas like starting the spring season a little later so that more people may be available for the summer months, but it’s a work in progress.”

Meanwhile, Minot High School activities director Mitch Lunde is among the many local administrators often tasked with navigating his program through the umpire shortage in softball and baseball. He shares that some games can be only be played with one-man officiating crews due to the lack of available help. Sometimes, coaches themselves will even have to pitch in to umpire the games if there are no other viable options on a particular day.

“When you are taking the coaches away from their typical coaching duties to umpire the games, it just isn’t fair to the kids who are competing. Umpires are especially needed in the smaller towns outside of Minot,” Lunde adds. “Most people don’t mind traveling a few times a week to cover games, but to get people to travel out of town four or five times a week is very tough. If we had more people to handle junior varsity and middle school games, it would free up the umpires who are qualified to do varsity games. We really have to figure out a way to get something done.”

For those who may be interested in becoming an umpire or official, the North Dakota High School Activities Association oversees the certification process of baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, volleyball and wrestling. Registration with the NDHSAA for new officials should be done prior to July 1 for the upcoming sports year.

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