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OUR VIEW: SD Umpires Association should focus on bolstering young group

Sadly, baseball umpires are a dying breed. According to information from the South Dakota Umpires Association, the number of registered umpires in the state has fallen about 40 percent in two years, when there were between 325 to 350. This year, ...

Sadly, baseball umpires are a dying breed.

According to information from the South Dakota Umpires Association, the number of registered umpires in the state has fallen about 40 percent in two years, when there were between 325 to 350. This year, the number has settled around 220.

Considering the importance of baseball to South Dakota's summers, the news of declining umpires is concerning. And the cause of the problem comes from the top.

The South Dakota Umpires Association is in charge of certifying and organizing the state's baseball umpires. It also selects the umpires for the Class A and Class B Legion and Class B amateur state tournaments.

But the association hasn't done a sufficient job replenishing the older generation of umpires who are slowly retiring with younger umpires to take their place.

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It should be the association's job to encourage people to become umpires and to keep those people interested in doing it annually. That doesn't seem to be the case. The association has relied too heavily on the umpires they have, rather than recruiting fresh blood.

To be selected to a state tournament is an honor to many umpires, but the association isn't getting enough younger, talented umpires in the rotation. Each year, the association asks umpires to apply to either the Class A or B state Legion tournament or the Class B state amateur tournament. It's a good selection method that mandates umpires to have experience and knowledge of the job.

But based on the numbers, either not many new umpires are applying for state tournaments, or the association just is not picking them. In a six-year span from 2010 to 2015, six umpires were selected to work at least four Class B state amateur tournaments, and two of those umpires worked every year from at least 2008 to 2015. Last year at the Class B state amateur tournament in Mitchell, all 13 umpires who worked had been selected to previous state amateur tournaments.

It's understandable to have some of the longest-tenured umpires selected as they have the most experience, but it's unfortunate the association does not mandate that at least one or two new umpires are selected for state events.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association, for example, has rules in place to ensure new officials each year are working state tournaments in several sports such as football, volleyball and wrestling.

There certainly has to be a way to get new umpires state tournament appearances to keep them involved and interested. Because, as the way it seems now, the umpires association is concerned with keeping our longer-tenured umpires happy. That doesn't bode well for the future of umpires here.

We love baseball in South Dakota, from youth levels to teeners up to amateur ball. But a healthy crop of umpires is absolutely needed to keep the game alive and well in our state.

Those who run the South Dakota Umpires Association need to show they understand that. They need to step up to the plate.

Related Topics: OUR VIEWBASEBALL
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