I don’t know if Little League Baseball, small-fry wrestling or other youth sports build or reveal character, but I do believe in the innocence of children. That belief was reaffirmed at one summer Bronco baseball game years ago. The players at this level are 11 and 12 years old.
I was the umpire-in-chief behind home plate during a tournament game when an 11-year-old boy hit a pop fly to right-center field. The base umpire was in the proper position to observe the play. The center fielder and right fielder crossed each other’s paths as the ball came down. Both the base umpire and I thought the right fielder caught the ball, but when we looked at the center fielder, he had the ball in his right hand. Did he catch it or not?
The base umpire called time and motioned me out to the infield to discuss the situation. Meanwhile, the batter was on first base and his firstbase coach began screaming at me to “make a decision.” Very calmly, I told the coach to relax, that everything would be straightened out in a fair manner. He continued to loudly voice his opinion.
Finally, as the chief umpire, I made my decision. I told the base umpire to ask the center fielder if he caught the ball or picked it up. At this point, the coach went ballistic, screaming, “You can’t do that!”
From there, it was all downhill for him. The coach lost perspective and composure. Naturally, I had no choice but to remove him from the field of play. Seconds later, the base umpire returned with the verdict. The young center fielder told him, “I picked the ball up from the ground.”
If only the coach would have waited five seconds before vehemently protesting. His player was safe at first, but he was ejected. Some of you may think I took a big chance with the decision I made. Well, I don’t. As adults who have witnessed more of the darker side of human nature, we often forget about the innocence of youth.
Fortunately, as a teacher, I have worked with children of this age group for many years. I have often observed their purity and intrinsic honesty in the classroom. It is a joy to know real innocence exists as our youth continue to set examples for adults.
On another occasion, I was officiating a one-day wrestling tournament. Tournaments are often sponsored by a high school or a state high school association. There were fans from two schools in particular that were at each other’s throats throughout the entire event. It so happened I was assigned to officiate the 171-pound championship bout in which the participants were from the two schools involved in all of the unsporting comments toward each other. Increasing the stakes, the single match would determine which school would win the tournament.
The first two periods of the match went as smoothly as an official could ever want, without any questionable or tough calls. I wish I could say the same for the third period. The wrestler who had the choice of position at the start of the third period selected the top position. At the whistle, the wrestlers maneuvered into a tangled position on the mat. Without realizing it, the top wrestler locked hands around the bottom man’s body, which is a technical violation with one point awarded to the opponent. As soon as I hand-gestured the infraction while kneeling on the mat, the bottom man quickly switched his opponent and placed him on his back. Then his adversary reversed him, placing him on his back as well. The flurry of moves continued until the end of the period with the score tied, 14-14.
The wrestlers would get a minute’s rest and then wrestle three one-minute periods, unless a wrestler was pinned any time during the overtime action. It was about 15 seconds into the rest period when my assistant official asked, “Bill, did you indicate locked hands?”
“Did you award the point?”
“Are you going to, Bill?”
“No, I’m going to eat the point. If I award it now, all hell would break loose in the gym. Remember, the fans of each team have been screaming at each other all day long. Awarding the point now would cause a riot in the house. We’ll let the match play itself out and pray the right wrestler wins.”
“OK, Bill, it’s your call.” Thank God, the correct wrestler did come out the victor.
In reality, although I made an incorrect decision, I felt it was the right call to make at that point in time.
Bill Welker, EdD, is a retired sports columnist and educator in Wheeling, W.Va. He officiated high school baseball and wrestling for over 25 years.
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