High school sports in Iowa facing a shortage of umpires

(Courtesy Photo)
(Courtesy Photo)(KCRG)
Published: May. 27, 2020 at 8:07 PM CDT
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June 1 marks the official start of the modified high school summer sports season.

Baseball and softball teams can begin practice then, with games starting on June 15. That is, of course, if all the pieces that need to come together do actually happen.

Umpiring is often an under-appreciated but vital factor for games to commence.

“We’re, you know, rallying the troops right now as we speak," Lewie Curtis, Iowa High School Athletic Association director of officials, said.

Having a shortage in the number of umpires is nothing new, but the circumstances behind the reasons for it this season are unprecedented.

“You always want to have safety at the forefront, but this is a little bit different," Curtis said.

Curtis is hoping that no games are forced to be canceled just because there's not an available umpire. Although, he couldn't rule out that possibility.

“I think that’s definitely a concern,” Curtis said.

According to information provided by the IHSAA, the number of active officials has hovered around 1,200 in the past five years. In 2018, the number of active officials was at 1,226. In 2019, that number was 1,232.

As of May 27th, the current number of active officials is 994.

That total is expected to climb once the season starts, according to Chris Cuellar, of the IHSAA. However, it should be pointed out that the number of active officials contains umpires for all levels of play, and the majority don’t umpire high school athletics.

Jackson Litterer, of Tiffin, is one name on that list that’s signed up for this season.

“How could you tell a kid, 'no, you don’t get to play because there aren’t enough adults that are willing to help,'" Litterer explained.

Litterer played baseball in college and started umpiring games during his senior year of high school. After taking five years off, he was more than willing to sign up again.

“Why shouldn’t I step up and just be a part of making it possible, you know, it’s not about me by any means," Litterer said. "You could ask any umpire, it’s not about who we are, necessarily, it’s just about giving back to the sport that gave so much to us."

Litterer sees it as more of a responsibility to help keep games on the schedule.

“If we don’t have officials here, we don’t get to have games," Litterer said.

Both Litterer and Curtis are hoping that fans, parents, and coaches stay grateful that games are happening once again and that disputes over what’s a ball and what’s a strike won't get in the way.

“Now that we’ve been without sports, we can finally get it back," Litterer said. “Maybe this is a time where, you know, some of that can at least empathize with a little bit more because it’s people giving up their time, and time away from home, and things like that just to make sure that these things happen.”