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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)
EVANSVILLE — Local umpires hope the ugly incident Sunday at Scott Township Baseball Fields causes coaches and parents to think twice before making a scene at youth sporting events. They've seen enough bad behavior.
Gregory VanBibber, an assistant coach with the 14U Eagles Travel Baseball Team, was arrested on a count of battery after an altercation with the home plate umpire postgame.
Umpire Rickey Cassitty called the game — part of what was considered a "charity event" — for reaching the time limit. The Eagles trailed 15-6, but their head coach questioned him about why play must end.
VanBibber, an assistant coach, then came charging out of the dugout and tackled him to the ground, Cassitty told police. Witnesses have said he was blindsided and that VanBibber had been verbally chastising him throughout the game.
David Ford, a local umpire and board chairman for the Evansville Rural Baseball League, said the physicality of this particular event is isolated, but the aggressive nature from coaches and parents in travel sports is growing "more and more volatile every year."
"If there's no repercussion for this, it's going to be seen as, 'Oh well, he just got a smack on the hand. I don't have to worry about it so now I can go after someone.' There are guys who would do that," Ford said.
Although VanBibber was charged with a Class A misdemeanor, Indiana does not have a law specifically protecting referees and umpires. But 23 other states have assault laws protecting officials — in Kentucky, the assault of a sports official is considered a Class D felony. A handful of bills have been proposed in recent years in Indiana's state legislature, but none have become law.
Umpires are trained to de-escalate hostile situations, according to Todd Tiechenor, who is the ERBL's director of umpires, overseeing 75-100 officials. When he's calling a game, the final thing Tichenor says to coaches before "play ball" is to make it fun for the kids.
"But sometimes things are at a fever pitch and I don't think (Cassitty) got a chance to de-escalate anything," Tichenor said.
Bob Davis is a local travel coach and umpire. He serves as the chairman for the Southern Baseball Officials Association, of which Cassitty is a member. He said intense coaches and parents have pushed officials to the point where they are starting to want protection. Baseball, in particular, doesn't have law enforcement on site for high school games, whereas football and basketball contests almost always do.
Umpires also usually are not provided a spot to change into and out of their gear unless they're at a college facility. Most of the time they dress in parking lots by their cars, essentially making them sitting ducks for everyone agitated enough to approach them. Almost all of them have been left vulnerable to an angry adult at some point.
"I've heard from numerous people, 'Well, you're the only one getting paid out there. You should be better,'" Davis said. "For the most part, parents are good, but there's that group that thinks they're owed something because their kid is playing travel ball."
Cassitty, who is in his 60s, has spent most of his umpiring career calling games for players 14 and under. He ventured into some high school games in recent years, but he mostly enjoys being around the kids. Yet he was the target for a physical attack, causing him to fall to the ground, hurting the same hip he previously had replaced.
Officiating is a thankless job to begin with and absolutely no one is in it to hose kids or purposely make bad calls. That certainly wasn't Cassitty's prerogative.
"To a man, every umpire there was under 50, in good shape; big guys, young guys, healthy guys — and then there's Rickey," Ford said. "This guy takes his opportunity to go after the smallest, oldest guy."
The local officials association intends to advise umpires to walk away and not call a game if VanBibber is ever seen in a dugout again.
Youth sports are about the kids. Just because mom and dad spent thousands of dollars for Johnny's spot on a travel team doesn't mean he will become a professional athlete. Especially when it comes to younger kids, it's delusional to think a 10-year-old will even earn a college scholarship, considering the long odds.
An umpire behind home plate of a youth game is someone who cares more about the sport than the little money accepted in return.
A 14-year-old travel baseball game being played for charity in rural Southern Indiana was not Game 7 of the World Series.
Kids throw balls, referees miss calls. They're all human. It's not hard to treat each other with respect.
Contact Courier & Press columnist Chad Lindskog on Twitter @chadlindskog or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
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