OKLAHOMA CITY – Training, dedication and passion – three things that are typically used to define the traits of an athlete. However, those same words can also describe the men and women who put hours of practice into becoming a USA Softball umpire – a fact that three high schoolers from Oregon can attest to. After a long summer of training and working in the field, Violet Loftus, Emma Sullivan and Sophia Weathers got the full experience of being an umpire for USA Softball of Oregon – an opportunity that allowed each of them to gain a new appreciation for the work that umpires put in on and off the field.
“I’ve always had an immense amount of respect for umpires,” said Weathers. “But actually putting yourself in those shoes and understanding the work and the process they go through makes you really understand and appreciate it more.”
Just as these three softball players found out, umpiring is a tough job at any level, but it’s one that reaps many rewards. From relationships and comradery to life lessons and character building – it’s a hidden gem in the world of softball.
Dennis Chaltraw, USA Softball of Oregon Umpire-In-Chief (UIC) in the Eugene area, makes it his mission to grow the umpire community. Following a high school game in Bend, Ore., Chaltraw contacted Bend High School Head Coach, Tom Mauldin, about the possibility of Bend players joining the umpire squad. Right away, Mauldin named Loftus, Sullivan and Weathers, not
ing their passion and high character. “They are bright, aware and athletic – taking pride in all things they do,” added Mauldin. From there, the process to prepare them took off with the three girls quickly jumping into their journey of becoming a USA Softball of Oregon umpire.
“I was a little intimidated to start because I’ve seen the way umpires are treated through all my years of softball,” said Weathers. “It’s hard to change from the mindset of a player to an umpire, so understanding the game from that different point of view was challenging at first.”
Their training began in an unconventional way with Chaltraw and USA Softball of Oregon umpire, Kelli Demianew, coordinating virtual zoom calls filled with detailed slides shows, diagrams and discussions. “What was crazy for me was that Dennis and I live over two hours away from these girls,” said Demianew. “So the fact that they showed up to every zoom call and put trust in the two people they saw on their screens says a lot. And then add in the fact they were willing to go out on the field after such a unique training experience – that was tremendously brave.”
After five zoom calls and just one day of in-person training, the girls took the field at the Redmond High Desert Classic in early June. Their excitement and anticipation was quickly met with nerves and intimidation as the reality of the situation set in – they were in charge of the game and the whole field looked to them for leadership.
“The main thing for me was being confident in myself,” said Loftus. “As soon as you start doubting a call, nobody is going to believe you. But when you’re confident in the call, you’re going to start carrying yourself better and I think that’s helped me a lot in umpiring, playing and in life.”
Sullivan and Weathers also experienced similar feelings, and they too learned the importance of having confidence in themselves as they were constantly encouraged by the umpires around them. “Every person that we were paired with, even if we had just met them, was super kind and always willing to listen if we had questions,” said Sullivan.
From their first terrifying game behind the plate to making a sellout call in a big-time situation, the girls experienced all the highs and lows of umpiring. “For me, the biggest moment of the entire process was the second game they went behind the plate,” said Chaltraw. “They went out there knowing what they were doing and had a greater sense of confidence. They overcame their fear and realized they could do it – and they had fun while doing it.”
After reflecting on their experience as USA Softball umpires, it was hard for them to pinpoint just one favorite memory, but one thing was clear – it wasn’t just another summer job. It sparked something within them and made them realize that softball is more than just a game and is about much more than just themselves.
“I gained a lot of appreciation for the people who put in the time and hard work so that girls like us can play,” said Loftus.
“Going through the umpiring process after being an athlete myself, I personally feel like every softball player should experience that side of game or at least understand the training behind it,” said Weathers. “I feel like the respect for umpires could really grow if more people understood it from that perspective. It’s also just a great way to stay involved in the game.”
Although Loftus, Sullivan and Weathers will continue their playing careers as athletes, each of them look forward to pursuing umpiring long after their playing days are over. After all, it’s one of the best ways to stay involved and continue your passion for the game as a retired athlete!
“Sometimes it’s hard and you make a couple calls that upset a player or a coach,” said Sullivan. “But then you make a call and you can see a player’s love for the game and the excitement on their face – it’s so cool. Knowing that you played a part in creating that moment definitely makes all the hard work worth it and shows you how important umpiring really is.”