West Madison Little League gets creative to strike out umpire shortage

During the spring and summer season, West Madison Little League has games happening nearly every day.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 8:51 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - During the spring and summer season, West Madison Little League has games happening nearly every day.

With 630 players on more than 50 different teams, WMLL needs roughly 24 umpires every weekend to cover all the games.

“We have plenty of players and plenty of demand and we don’t see that going away,” WMLL Board President Jerry Schmitt said.

Schmitt said over the past five years it’s grown increasingly challenging to find umpires to staff all of their games.

While many youth leagues around the country are facing an umpire shortage, Schmitt said their challenges are a little different at WMLL, because 95 percent of their umpires are either current or past players. With the demand for officials at an all-time high, in addition to other activities their players/umpires are involved in, Schmitt said their availability is limited.

“Kids are more involved in multiple activities more than ever,” Schmitt said. “So are the parents and that reduces availability.”

WMLL Umpire Coordinator Joan Farrell said they have 115 umpires registered and they’ve had two games so far this season that didn’t have anyone signed up to umpire. When that happens, Farrell said the worst case scenario is a coach or parent would have to volunteer to umpire. Farrell said a big part of her job as umpire coordinator is working behind the scenes during the week to make sure all games are staffed, and filling in any gaps.

Farrell said softball (ages 13-16) and baseball (ages 13-14 and 15-16) are the hardest to fill.

In an effort to recruit more umpires and retain the ones they currently have, WMLL lowered the age limit to 12, offered additional training and increased the pay.

“The age limits were even a little bit higher, we didn’t let kids start until they were 13 because we had enough players to do it,” Schmitt said. “And as things transitioned you noticed that there’s more and more games that we don’t have two umpires, we started to lower that level.”

To further support their current umpires, this season WMLL introduced a zero tolerance policy for arguing or questioning an umpire’s decision.

“So there’s no ambiguity,” Farrell said. “It’s not one decision can be made for one family who complained and another for a different family who complained. This is our policy, I’m sorry if it’s strict but this is our policy and we expect all people to adhere to it.”

Schmitt said it can be intimidating for these players to step into an umpire role, and parent or coach behavior can add to that difficulty.

“They’ve been taught to listen to the coaches, now they’re the ones in charge of the games and it’s hard to do that to an adult, I can understand why that would be intimidating,” Schmitt said. “That’s what we always want to remind people this will make them better players, this will make them better people, this will make our community better.”

To help with limited umpire availability, Farrell said they’ve started speaking with WIAA umpires about staffing some of their games, which would be a first for the league.

For more information on becoming a WMLL umpire, click here.

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