How violent parents are driving away youth umpires across Mississippi

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – An incident Saturday night is getting national attention after an angry parent was arrested for punching an umpire at a Mississippi 12-year-old softball game.

According to WLBT, umpire Kristi Moore was left with a black eye and bruises after 32-year-old Kiara Thomas allegedly punched her in the face. Moore says Thomas was removed from the game in Laurel for using excessive profanity.

“Sadly…it’s becoming more commonplace than we would like to see,” says Lowndes County Recreation Director Roger Short.

Moore later took to social media, warning parents how this kind of behavior is a big reason for the nationwide shortage of youth umpires and could lead to more empty ballparks.

Short says that officiating teams for youth sports know there’s always the possibility for volatile situations. But with many umpires in it for the love of the game, fighting angry parents is not what they signed up for.

“It’s not only contributing to the shortage of umpires in youth sports, it’s also contributing to the shortage of umpires in high school sports,” he says.

Short says that when he first started as an assigning secretary for high school baseball for District 4, they would average about 80 umpires per season. When he retired in 2019, he said it was down to about 50.

WCBI meteorologist Lance Blocker is also a certified umpire, who has called games from the little league to the college baseball level off and on for over 10 years.

He says he’s seen it all.

“I’ve been escorted off the field by the Georgia State Patrol because of issues from parents where they were throwing stuff on the field one time because of a close call,” Blocker says. “There are people yelling death threats at you, saying they are going to meet you at your car.”

He says that prospective officials start out and learn by calling games at the youth level but the abuse from parents and coaches gets in the way.

“These parents and coaches don’t give them that opportunity to learn,” Blocker says. “They yell at them, they cuss at them, they call them all sorts of names…and they’re not more than three or four years older than the kids they are umpiring.”

Short says Lowndes County is fortunate to have a regular supply of veteran umpires.

“We play two games on a field a night and I’m taking into consideration the three fields,” he said, referring to the facilities at Lake Lowndes State Park. “So if I’ve got eight umpires that are available, I’m in good shape.”

But while their numbers have remained steady, Short says they aren’t seeing that next generation of younger officials.

“We’re all getting older,” he says. “Honestly, I don’t have a lot of new hires that are chomping at the bits.”

Beyond that, Short says that parents should keep in mind the kind of example they are setting.

“These kids, they’re going to imitate, they’re going to mimic what their parents do,” he says. “So parents, do you want your kids to mimic what you may be doing and the way you may act towards umpires?”

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