The Indiana High School Athletic Association is seeing an increase in high school baseball games canceled due to a shortage of umpires.
According to the Indianapolis Star, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the umpire shortage in the state. There are more than 1,400 umpires registered with the IHSAA, but that number includes many who opted out this season due to the virus.
Several programs in the Indianapolis area have had to cancel freshman and junior varsity games, or make do with just one umpire. Greenwood recently canceled a game against Decatur Central last Thursday, which saw a packed date because of previous cancellations due to weather.
“Fortunately, our people understood that was a possibility when we had to move the game due to rain and snow,” Greenwood athletic director Rob Irwin said. “That doesn’t make it any easier. We need to get more people involved and we need parents to realize that they need to stay off the umpires and officials in all sports or we’re going to lose more games. We need to start appreciating them so we can keep them around."
Beyond COVID-19, reasons for the shortage include poor treatment from parents, players and coaches.
A survey conducted last year by the National Association of Sports Officials of more than 17,000 officials showed 47.9 percent of male officials and 44.7 percent of female officials have “felt unsafe or feared for their safety because of administrator, coach, player or spectator behavior.”
However, the pandemic has shifted not just a few games but entire seasons, which would have led to problems even if there were enough umpires.
“All of those things have led to different availability issues that would be a problem even if we had a supply of umpires that we’ve had in the past,” said Alex Skandalis, chief executive officer for United Travel Umpires and executive vice president for United Collegiate Umpires. “Which we didn’t. We were already headed down a path of the umpiring community being older and not replenishing that bottom end. A lot of people have pointed to conditions with baseball community, like umpires behind yelled at – I think that’s part of it.”
Skandalis believes that players aged 14-18 might be a resource going forward. Skandalis, who partners with tournament organizers such as Bullpen Tournaments and Prep Baseball Report at Grand Park, is actively looking to tap into a database of players who come through the facility and train them to become umpires.
“It’s new for us to attack it this way,” Skandalis said. “This will definitely be the first year we are doing this and soliciting those guys specifically. We’d always worked to get a younger generation of umpires involved, but this is almost like a formal campaign with targeted emails and targeted training. We’ve had umpires who are high-school age on the field already with umpires who are training them. We’re definitely going to do more of that for the 9- and 10-year-old (playing) level to get them involved.”