Umpires in youth leagues are in short supply amid parental misbehavior

Published: May. 18, 2023 at 9:57 AM CDT
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(CNN) - Youth leagues across the country are facing major umpire shortages. At the same time, there’s a lot of aggression from parents and even coaches at youth games.

“Baseball is like, it’s very fun,” said Jack Wood, a Little League player.

It’s one of America’s favorite pastimes. But the kids’ fun is being ruined by adults.

Around the country, brawls are breaking out at youth baseball games.

A coach came after an umpire at a little league game in Alabama, Parents aggressively yelled at an umpire in Texas.

John Dugan, president of Ramsey Baseball and Softball, said he doesn’t understand it.

“There’s an expectation that, you know, every game is do or die for their kids’ future in this sport,” he said.

The physical and verbal abuse by parents seems to be having a dramatic impact – an umpire shortage.

The number of youth umpires in the U.S. has dropped.

The National Umpire Association says the number of baseball and softball umpires in the Babe Ruth youth baseball and softball league has been on the decline.

Since 2017, it has dropped from just over 6,000 to just under 5,000.

And at the high school level, there are nearly 20,000 fewer referees across all sports than before the pandemic, but there are signs those numbers may tick up this year.

“We have suspended people from the park.” Dugan said. “Usually it’s one game, two games to begin with. And if it becomes worse than that, we ask them not to come back.”

On a picture-perfect evening in Ramsey, New Jersey, the Robins played the Orioles.

Twenty-one-year veteran umpire Carl Kearney called the Little League game.

“I’m the boss out there, no doubt,” he said.

He’s also a calm boss, which works in his favor.

“Some (parents) can be a little, uh, louder than the coaches, some vulgarity at times,” Kearney said. But I let the parents say what they’re going to say. If they continue, then you have to then tell the coach ... ‘If you don’t calm that down, I’m going to have to ask you to remove them.’”

Mike Wood has gotten into his fair share of arguments with umpires.

“It has been suggested maybe that I leave a game, but we never got to that,” he said. “The umpire said if you don’t like the way I am calling the game, you can leave. I’m not going to leave. It doesn’t mean I enjoy the way you are calling the game though.”

But his son Jack, catcher for the Orioles, and Evan, catcher for the other team, see it from a different perspective.

“The umpire is the top-tier man, and you have to respect him,” Jack said.

“(Parents) should be excited and focused on the game. But when they talk to the umpires and yell at the calls and stuff I think that’s a little a unnecessary maybe, because it’s a kids game and it’s just Little League. And kids are just trying to have fun.” Evan said.

When adults behave badly, the kids lose.

“I have to stop the game. Nobody wants that. I can also understand that a parent wanting their, their child to, you know, to succeed. But not at that price,” Kearney said.


In the end, the Robins beat the Orioles for first place. But really, everyone was a winner. It was a clean game by the kids - and parents.