Girl Umpires: junior program debuts at Alta Vista
by Garth Meyer
“Choke up!” yelled the coach.
The batter paused, taking no action.
“On the bat,” said the coach. “Fists up.”
No action was taken as the softball umpire stepped away from the catcher for a moment, calling time.
The young batter moved her hands up on the grip and the umpire stepped back into position.
The age 8 & under Redondo Sunset league championship game May 13 resumed, with an eighth-grade girl as home plate umpire.
Part of a new program in which kids ages 11-16 officiate the little kids’ softball games, Grace Murray commanded the plate.
A pink-helmeted batter hit an RBI-single and the umpire clicked her clicker, phone in her back pocket.
Later, a controversy rose at the end of an inning.
“I have three,” said the home plate umpire, as an adult USA Softball ump walked in from the base paths.
“So, 7-2?” said a coach in green.
Fans converged at the fence.
The home plate umpire said three runs. It was three; three runs in the inning for a score of 7-2.
The adult ump was there only because Murray’s scheduled partner, 13-year-old Parras Middle School classmate Izzy Casaña, had to be at a club soccer game – her team advancing in the playoffs.
The teenage umpires, 13 girls and two boys in the first year of the program – modeled after one in Santa Monica – are paid $25 per game plus a free hot dog or hamburger, candy item and a drink from the snack shack.
“You’re allowing kids to have fun, and the little girls to have role models,” said parent Andy Casaña. “The umpires get to earn money and contribute back to the league they played in.”
In preparation for the season, each junior umpire went to an 8-hour USA Softball training session in Long Beach or Santa Monica – as did Colby Cano, Redondo Sunset softball commissioner.
“We were having the same umpires every year; older men, we didn’t have younger ones. We had staffing issues like everything else in the world,” said Cano, a longtime coach, in his first year as commissioner.
Fawnda Sandoval, last year’s league president, brought up the idea of a junior umpire program and volunteered to run it.
Before the season, a two-game scrimmage was scheduled to rotate the new officials in for live action.
“But it got rained out, like everything else in February,” said Cano.
So the new recruits went in cold.
“I love it. It’s a great program,” said home-schooled umpire Daisy Northup, 13. “To see all the little girls play, and with them to be so happy to play. It’s stressful sometimes but it’s really fun.”
The young umpires covered the 8 & under softball division, its 10 teams making for eight games per week – working in pairs.
Northup was a catcher/pitcher for her own 13 & under team this spring, often going straight from practice to work a game.
She was usually assigned to umpire home plate.
One time, doing a game by herself because the base-paths umpire did not show up, Northup had a small problem.
“I had to pull the coach aside and tell him I was going to eject him if he didn’t stop yelling at me,” she said.
The dispute: whether a batter stepped out of the box.
The umpire’s call: she most definitely did not step out of the box.
“These kids are in charge, defending their position with adults,” said Commissioner Cano.
He went to games through the season to give feedback, noting a “cool back-and-forth” in how the umpires who had played Redondo Sunset softball gave pointers to catchers.
Cano umped a couple (12 & under) games himself.
“It’s one thing to learn it, it’s another thing to do it,” he said. “Sure enough, I got heckled too.”
Redondo Sunset paid for all the junior umpires’ necessities; registration with USA Softball, insurance, hats, shirts, clickers, base brushes, protective gear and ball bags.
On May 25-31, the annual 82-team “War at the Shore” all-star invitational softball tournament returns to Alta Vista (and other locations), for which the top junior umpires will call 6 & under games.
Last Saturday, before the Redondo Sunset championships, Murray hadn’t done many playoff games because of her own soccer team.
She often worked doubleheader Fridays, with a trip to the snack shack in between.
“My go-to is a hot dog and a Twix,” she said.
Will she do this job next year?
“Yeah, for sure. I think it was a great experience,” Murray said.
“Coaches are generally very encouraging and the parents too,” said Anya Jensen, Daisy’s mother.
“You finish as a player, and you stay on as an umpire, that’s the model we hope for,” Cano said. “My sense is we’re going to have a lot more people sign up next year.” ER
Photos by Garth Meyer and Andy Casaña