Photo of an assistant referee. Ben Ray /

Photo of an assistant referee. Ben Ray /

Amateur refs and umpires deserve more respect | Bench Talk with Ben Ray

Imagine you show up to do a hobby that you enjoy, and other people show up and just start ripping you a new one because of a minute decision you made.

There are many thankless jobs that people do willingly for the benefit of their communities. One of those jobs for sure is being an amateur official, umpire, referee — take your pick. Or the arbiter of the game, as I like to call them.

Judicators play an integral role in the makeup of athletic competition. They make sure the game, contest or meet is conducted fairly and with no bias, despite what spectators claim. As someone who played baseball in high school, college, semi-professionally and now resides in slow-pitch softball, I have had my fair share of umpire interactions with teammates, coaches and fans.

These dads, former players or just fans of the game, on routine occasions, get no respect from parents, players and coaches during the competitions they are there to officiate. Imagine you show up to do a hobby that you enjoy, and other people show up and just start ripping you a new one because of a minute decision you made. It can be intolerable.

For a couple of summers during college, I umpired 15- and 16-year-old baseball games. For the most part I loved it — as a young college kid with an aggressive “Top Gun: Maverick” style mustache, it seemed like I was a breath of fresh air for these coaches and players over a veteran umpire who had been umping since I was in high school.

Admittedly I wasn’t perfect. Sure, a pitch might have been over the corner that I called a ball, or a runner was out at first and I called him safe. It is the human element of the game that professionals love. The arguing and disagreements never got to me too much. I have thick skin and am young, so whenever I hear anything, I may chirp back or what not. It might not be totally professional, but it is who I am.

But some officials don’t work that way by choice. Some try and tune out the hate and profanity spewed at them, but it has to hit home sometimes. It has to. Take basketball referees, who are in a very intimate setting by nature. A high school gym packed with students, coaches and players seemingly on top of you in every corner of the floor. It takes incredible composure to keep it all together and remain a pro. Especially when games come down to the wire and require perfect execution.

There is already a referee shortage. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s website is no stranger to “Want to be an official?” being asked on its website. With the current toxic climate that refs find themselves in, why would anyone want to? They have got kids swearing at them and parents critiquing every single call they make. God forbid they accidentally make a mistake and get reprimanded for it.

I guess the theme of this column is that umpires are important members of our sporting communities. They should be respected and appreciated a lot more than currently. It’s not an easy job, it doesn’t pay as much as it should, and it probably doesn’t cover travel. But these guys put in work on weekends, weekdays and weeknights, and should be acknowledged for the work that they put in.

And if you’re a spectator, maybe take it down a little bit. People who yell trying to get an umpire to change their calls — stop. It doesn’t work and most of the time: the strike zone gets smaller, or a hold doesn’t look like a hold, and that contact wasn’t enough for a foul anymore.

Just some food for thought here on the bench.


Ben Ray writes about sports in South King County. Contact

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