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Umpire shortage impacts sports of all ages

“10 years ago we probably had over 5,000 total officials. This year, we'll have about 3,800 to 3,900,” said Lewie Curtis, IHSAA director of officials.

DES MOINES, Iowa — For a high school umpire in Iowa, the calls can come in an instant and not everyone will be happy about it. It’s the pressure of a job that’s seeing steep declines.

“We're getting short, and it's getting shorter by the year and that's, as you mentioned, we're seeing games canceled and in all sports. And when you see that, then the problem is here and now,” says Mark Amadeo, a 35-year veteran behind the plate.

The numbers in Iowa are staggering.

“Ten years ago we probably had over 5,000 total officials. This year, we'll have about 3,800 to 3,900,” said Lewie Curtis, IHSAA director of officials.

High school baseball and softball have been hit the hardest.

“The number has fallen almost in half. These games are getting umpired by one person instead of two, and, you know, that that's really difficult and probably, you know, probably shouldn't happen,” Curtis said.

Tough calls and close plays can often lead to mixed reactions from coaches, players and fans.

“What I hear more and more it's just become a little a little more aggressive, a little more assertive, a little more like 'I'm going to come at you after the game's over, you know, while you're walking out to your car,'" Curtis said. 

He also said that some umpires have to get escorts back to locker rooms after games because they fear for their safety. 

Amadeo said that this kind of intimidation and mistreatment could keep younger umpires from pursuing a career at the high school and college level.

“People doing high school and youth sports, they shouldn’t be hearing in all that noise," Amadeo said.

The ISHAA and Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union have implemented recruiting strategies by looking to high schools and colleges to supply referees and umpires.

But, it still boils down to the game and those watching.

“It really just comes down to have good behavior, you know, treat them, treat these people like they're your, [as] if that's your son or your daughter out there umpiring. You don't want somebody yelling at your child,” Curtis said.

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