Mid-Prairie working to grow young umpires with mentorship program

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 10:54 PM CDT
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KALONA, Iowa (KCRG) - Steve Klein has been an umpire for about 40 years.

“I always was just inclined to watch sports and participate. Then, the umpiring thing became an interest of mine,” said Klein.

He’s realized just how serious the shortage of officials has become over the last few years. According to the Iowa High School Athletic Association, 10 years ago, there were over 5,000 total officials. This year, that number is around 3,800. High school baseball and softball have been hit the hardest.

“Fewer and fewer young guys have gotten involved in it. This might sound crazy, but I’m almost not a lot older than the average age of officials,” said Klein. “We need younger guys doing it. I’m in my 60′s and yet, the average age is not far from that.”

In an attempt to recruit younger officials, Klein is working with a number of athletic directors to begin a mentorship program.

“Work well with the kids,” is what Klein said he was looking for in athletics directors. “Understand that we’re going to make some mistakes along the way, but they were real receptive of the idea. This season, we’ve just tried to focus on lower level stuff, get these guys some experience, and hope they’ll take it and run with it.”

Over the summer, he’s been working with guys like Mid-Prairie junior Beau Flynn to teach him some basic mechanics, while umping junior high games.

“Mostly the fundamentals this year,” Flynn said is what he’s learning. “Like where you need to stand and what are strikes and balls.”

Flynn said he had to get a job this summer, but wanted something with flexibility, so he could still do his own lifting and play basketball. He says he averages working about six games, four days a week, but experienced first hand the impact of the official shortage.

“When I played baseball our games would get cancelled because we didn’t have any umps,” said Flynn. “There’s definitely a need for it. It feels good to help,” he added.

Klein encourages any young people interested in sports to consider becoming an official because there is a real need for it. For those that attend sporting events, to limit the noise.

“Maybe just take a deep breath and understand that some of these guys are just learning. I’m old and still going to mess up and so are the young kids,” said Kelin. “Just work with them a little or otherwise you’re going to be faced with not enough officials to cover games,” he added.

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