Protect the Game, Battlefield2Ballfields and Officially Human to run free baseball umpire training for military veterans
Protect the Game, in partnership withBattlefields2Ballfields and Officially Human, will be running a free baseball umpiretraining to military veterans and their family members on March 13-15 at Cactus Yardsin Gilbert, AZ. This training seminar coincides with Triple Crown’s Arizona Spring Championships, a youth baseball event bringing in over 630 teams to the area from March 2-26.
Veterans and their family members will go through a three-day training with experienced umpires and trainers. PTG will provide a starter kit of baseball/softball officiating equipment/uniform and will connect certified officials with umpire assignors for immediate earning opportunities. Following the training, officials will work games
alongside a seasoned umpire during Triple Crown’s Spring Championships.
Veterans who execute the training and certification process through PTG will be eligible for funding assistance from Battlefields2Ballfields. B2B was founded in 2017 by Mike Pereira, current rules analyst on FOX Sports broadcasts and longtime football official, who took inspiration from conversations he had with military veterans struggling to find a path in civilian life. Over time, B2B has established a scholarship fund to help veterans
gain a foothold in the world of sports officiating.
The dwindling number of qualified officials has hit crisis level, as youth and high school sporting events around the country are being altered, and at times canceled, due to the lack of officials. PTG believes military veterans have displayed the established skills and situational awareness to thrive as a sports official, finding a natural fit with the
knowledge of rules and concepts of teamwork.
Officially Human, which has a mission to restore respect to game officials and recognize them as authorities on the fields and courts, will also be attending the training sessions and Triple Crown’s Spring Championship event in order to spread the word about the decline in officials and how coaches and parents can help find a solution.
If a military veteran and his/her family member(s) are interested in attending the free training please contact Jordan Cohen to sign up at Jordan@protectthegame.com or by filling out this form.
About Protect the Game
Protect the Game’s mission is to provide opportunities for U.S. military veterans to train and then be paid to work in youth sports and to build the numbers of qualified youth sports officials in America. Since its inception in 2019, PTG has certified 130 veterans around the country.
About Officially Human
Based in Lombard, IL., Officially Human was founded to restore respect to, and positive treatment of, sport officials through increased education and communication to all stakeholders (administrators, coaches, athletes, and fans.) Founded in 2019, Officially Human is the leader in addressing the growing crisis in officiating that touches every sport, official, and level of competition.
For more information, visit OfficiallyHuman.com.
Battlefields2Ballfields is a foundation designed to provide veterans an opportunity to integrate back into their communities through sports officiating. Founded in 2017 by current FOX Sports football rules analyst Mike Pereira, B2B provides scholarship assistance to servicemen and servicewomen who aspire to officiate football, men's and women's basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, track & field, among others. The foundation has awarded nearly 800 scholarships and has members in 38 of the United States.
For more information, visit battlefields2ballfields.org.
Non-profit organizations share common goals of supporting military veterans
December 19, 2022
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Two organizations dedicated to creating opportunities for military veterans while also bolstering the ranks of youth sports officials have announced a partnership, designed to identify more candidates and support them with the training, certification and equipment required to thrive in the role.
Battlefields2Ballfields (B2B) was founded in 2017 by Mike Pereira, current rules analyst on FOX Sports broadcasts and longtime football official, who took inspiration from conversations he had with military veterans struggling to find a path in civilian life. Over time, B2B has established a scholarship fund to help veterans gain a foothold in the world of sports officiating.
Protect The Game (PTG), founded in 2019 under the umbrella of Triple Crown Sports, has similar motivations – PTG has hosted a number of training and certification sessions around the country, also designed to identify veterans looking for a meaningful occupation out of the military. Time and again, military veterans have displayed the established skills and situational awareness to thrive as a sports official, finding a natural fit with the knowledge of rules and concepts of teamwork.
Working in association, candidates that execute the training and certification process through PTG will be eligible for funding assistance from B2B, removing the hurdles of cost so new officials can get equipment and uniforms. This should open more doors, more quickly, as veterans can help rebuild the ranks of youth sports officials.
The dwindling number of qualified officials is a crisis all its own, as youth sporting events around the country are being altered, and at times canceled, due to the lack of officials.
"It is an honor to partner with such a great organization that shares our commitment to veterans, officials and amateur sports,” Pereira said. “We will grow together in our joint mission to get more veterans on the fields, courts, diamonds and pitches."
“In honor of my brother, Dan Harsch (LCpl, USMC, deceased), I speak for myself, PTG executive director Jordan Cohen, and the rest of our Board of Directors when I say that this partnership with B2B is so very important to our success in training, certifying, and equipping military veterans (and supporting their family members) to become youth sports officials,” said Patty Harsch, PTG president. “The mission and values of each organization are in complete alignment with providing our veterans with working opportunities that foster camaraderie, while addressing the shortage of youth sports officials in America. From the day I met Mike Pereira and the rest of the Board of Battlefields2Ballfields, the synergy between our two organizations has been electric. We have much to accomplish together, and we look forward to the journey.”
About Protect the Game
Protect the Game’s mission is to provide opportunities for U.S. military veterans to train and then be paid to work in youth sports and to build the numbers of qualified youth sports officials in America. Since its inception in 2019, PTG has certified 130 veterans around the country. For more information on PTG and to sign up for an upcoming training visit: www.protectthegame.com.
Battlefields2Ballfields is a foundation designed to provide veterans an opportunity to integrate back into their communities through sports officiating. Founded in 2017 by current FOX Sports football rules analyst Mike Pereira, B2B provides scholarship assistance to servicemen and servicewomen who aspire to officiate football, men's and women's basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, track & field, among others. The foundation has awarded nearly 800 scholarships and has members in 38 of the United States. www.battlefields2ballfields.org
By Kyle Koso
When you’re sliding on an icy road, the smart thing to do is turn into the skid, a technique that sounds counter-intuitive.
Turning toward extra pressure seems like a risky way to navigate post-traumatic stress disorder, but that plan has worked out nicely for a Coast Guard veteran who has found comfort and purpose as an umpire through the Protect The Game initiative.
Ron Jensen, 60, of Colorado went through the PTG umpire training program about two years ago, where former military servicemen and women learn the basics of the job. Successful candidates can use their new skills as youth sports officials to better integrate with civilian life, while helping improve the supply of officials, which has been plummeting in recent years.
“I’ve suffered from PTSD for years, and this has helped me with that a bit, kept my mind off it and kept me busy,” said Jensen, who has worked dozens of games. “I really love the sport, love teaching the kids and helping them learn while I’m behind the plate. It’s been very enjoyable. Since I started this, I haven’t had that many bad days from my PTSD as I used to.”
Jensen grew up in Chicago and had an early affection for baseball, playing on the diamond as well as improvised games with a wall functioning as a backstop/catcher, and a game called Pinners that employed the steps to a building. At age 8, on a camping trip with his father, the family was going through the Fox River Locks in Wisconsin when a U.S. Coast Guard boat tied up and asked his father if he would consent to an inspection. The experience was impressive enough that Jensen became determined to join up once he got older.
He entered the delayed enlistment program while still attending Mather High School; he attended boot camp in Alameda, CA., and began his journey on the Coast Guard Cutter Acacia. He also served with stints in Brooklyn and back in Chicago. Within six months of leaving boot camp, he earned a promotion from Seaman Apprentice to Seaman; within another 11 months he achieved Petty Officer Third Class after graduating Storekeeper Class A School in Petaluma, CA.
While stationed at the Coast Guard Supply Center in Brooklyn, on Christmas Eve of 1980 he earned a “Letter of Appreciation” from the commanding office; at the Marine Safety Office in Chicago he was in charge of the Coast Guard Honor Guard. In 1983, he had the honor holding the American flag at first base during the opening ceremonies of the MLB All Star Game.
After leaving the Coast Guard, Jensen worked as a land surveyor, started a computer/printer repair business, worked as a commercial driver and also as a delivery driver.
Jensen saw a story on a Denver TV news station featuring 13-year-old umpire Josh Cordova, who in June 2019 got in the crosshairs of an angry crowd at a 7u youth game (a video of brawling parents went viral). That story and his own affection for baseball created momentum for Protect The Game training.
“My experience with it has been great -- it’s totally different how you see the game. I don’t think I could ever get after an umpire in my life now,” said Jensen, who has been known to generate some upbeat spectator response by dancing to between-innings rock-and-roll. “Even when I watch on TV now, I watch the umpires more than anything else.
“I had a game the other night; it was barely the second inning, and a fan was getting after me about my strike zone. He’s by the dugout, behind the fence, no way he can see it like I can … I turned around once and said, that’s enough. He started up again, and I went to the head coach and asked him to control his fans. After the game, getting ready to go home, one of the parents came up to me from that team and said I’d handled it perfectly. I told him about Protect The Game, and how it worked using former veterans who have that recommended attitude.”
Jensen’s schedule included multiple sessions at Triple Crown’s Arizona Spring Championships in March, and he’ll also work the TCS SlumpBuster in and around Omaha in June. With his military background fitting in nicely in terms of understanding rules, protocols and staying cool under pressure, Jensen enjoys nearly everything about the umpire role.
“I’ve had no problem (correcting) coaches or fans if I have to – what they are doing is not teaching the game to the kids the right way. I’m there to help them learn the right way,” said Jensen, who added his son Adam is an even bigger baseball fan and is his life’s pride and joy. “I tell the coaches at the plate conference before the game, welcome to my religion, this is my church. I ask the coaches to respect the game, which is how I grew up with it. I want these kids to respect it as well. Baseball is what, 150 years old, and it won’t stick around if you’re not careful.
“Bad umpires, bad coaches, kids who don’t care … the game will just go away, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
For more information about Protect The Game, check out the website (www.protectthegame.com) or contact Jordan Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Protect The Game is proud to announce that we will also be including the family members of our military veterans (spouse and/or children) who wish to become youth sports officials, in our free upcoming trainings. Protect The Game trains, certifies, and equips military veterans (and their family members) to become youth sports officials at NO COST.
To learn more about Protect The Game program, upcoming trainings and certifications, and training of military family members please contact our Executive Director Jordan Cohen at email@example.com or Call or Text: (970) 672-0575.
by Kyle Koso
When pondering how to help people in pain and those needing a boost to the spirits, Major League Baseball umpires have been making the right call for longer than you might imagine.
In a grass-roots effort initiated by MLB umpires themselves, UMPS CARE charities has a 15-year history of using its connections in the sport to support various causes. That includes the Protect The Game (Veterans in Sport Officiating) initiative, where military veterans are trained and equipped to become officials, primarily in youth sports.
UMPS CARE and Protect The Game are hosting a benefit event with two MLB umpires who served in the Marines, Laz Diaz and Mark Carlson — the talk will come via ZOOM call on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. ET, and will be hosted by Jerry Schemmel, former radio voice of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rockies and host of the Amazing American radio broadcast.
Ticketholders can submit questions to the umpires in advance of the ZOOM event. Tickets are $25 and available at this link:
TICKETS -- Feb. 9, Laz Diaz and Mark Carlson
Connections to the military run deeply for both umpires. Diaz’s father and son both served in the US Army, and his son-in-law is currency in the Marines. Carlson’s wife served four years in the Army, and his grandfather fought in World War II in the Army. Both umpires worked in the 2020 World Series.
The UMPS CARE charity was founded in 2006 and evolved to create opportunities for primarily youth-based organizations to ease the burden on those in need. While the COVID pandemic has altered normal plans, UMPS CARE has in the past brought people to MLB ballparks for an intimate look at the big-league experience; umpires have also delivered modified Build-A-Bear Workshop experiences to the bedside of children undergoing significant medical procedures in hospitals. Those hospital visits happen in 15-18 MLB markets annually (pre-COVID), with more than 18,000 Build-A-Bear kits distributed so far.
Groups like the USO, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and foster-care alliances are also served by UMPS CARE, as umpires invite such organizations to meet um[ires at Major Leahie and minor league games. In addition, UMPS CARE also has a scholarship trigram that sends children adopted later in life (age 13 and older) to college.
Another useful result stemming from UMPS CARE activities is the humanizing of the umpires, who like a lot of sports officials have come to expect a range of behavior from coaches, players and fans as they execute their job. Rather than just be known as targets of abuse (just YouTube some videos featuring Earl Weaver or Billy Martin to get a taste of what MLB umpires might experience), those behind UMPS CARE want a fuller picture to develop.
“We have tried to bridge that a little bit. That’s one reason why, when we bring groups to the ballparks, we want people to see the umpires working in a professional environment and what it takes to be an umpire, how they handle themselves,” said Amy Rosewater, marketing manager at UMPS CARE. “Beginning this year, we are starting a program where we look to have umpires at the Major League level mentor high school kids who might not have even thought that umpiring could be an occupation and a career.
“There’s so much in line with the military, the values of leadership, professionalism, dedication, sacrifice … all of that is very similar. Major League umpires spend anything from eight to 15 years (in the minors), so they understand commitment. They have to show up on time, in uniform, follow the rules. Everyone here is excited to have two umpires who understand both officiating and the military to connect with veterans via Protect The Game and encourage them to think about this profession.”
Protect The Game took shape in 2019 and has seen 26 former veterans complete the training, which had to be shut down during the pandemic. Dozens more are in line for training in 2021, tentatively set for locations in Colorado, North Carolina, Nebraska and a military base in California, among others.
“In the beginning days of Protect The Game, we had an intuition that veterans of military service would profile as positive forces in the world of sports officials, and the example of Laz Diaz and Mark Carlson makes that point even more forcefully,” said Jordan Cohen, executive director of Protect The Game. “We appreciate the support of UMPS CARE to our mission, which is to grow the roster of sports officials and help veterans succeed as they pivot into a civilian role in their life.”
Sponsor a Veteran in 2021
Triple Crown Sports recently launched a separate, non-profit venture called Protect The Game (Veterans in Sports Officiating), designed to train former members of the military in becoming officials, primarily for youth sports. There is a shortage of officials around the country, and this endeavor can create paid working opportunities for veterans looking for the next chapter of their lives.
We are reaching out nationally on behalf of Protect The Game, to see if you would like to make a donation or fully sponsor a veteran for $300. When sponsoring a veteran, the $300 covers all training, certification and equipment for one veteran in the program.
We’ve found that a veteran’s attention to detail and his or her ability to manage stress translates ideally into the work of a sports official. Veterans can still fulfill that desire to serve their communities, while finding an important place to fit in and connect with others after their time in the military. Your donation fast-tracks a deserving veteran into an opportunity that can provide financial and emotional support for a lifetime.
As word continues to spread about the mission and meaning behind the Protect The Game initiative, more stories surface about men and women who had a heart for service and an eye on the generations coming up next.
Triple Crown Sports began spearheading Protect The Game in 2019; while watching the pool of qualified officials leaving the world of youth sports, TCS saw that returning veterans from military service would be terrific candidates to fill the breach. Training sessions continue as Triple Crown builds its roster of qualified officials, and multiple news outlets have carried the story.
One of those broadcasts caught the eye of Daria Sanks, whose father Phillip Delfino was a coach and umpire in Ohio in a stretch that extended from the late 1960s into the 1980s. Delfino was also a veteran of World War II; he passed away in 2019.
Sanks saw the PTG story on the news right after Father’s Day last year and couldn’t help but be moved by the aspirations of the organization, and the memories of her father’s service.
“He loved baseball, first and foremost. My dad was one of those people from that generation who was very meticulous -- when we were growing up, he’d reiterate that if you’re doing something, don’t do it halfway,” she said. “Do it right, if you’re a brain surgeon or a garbage collector.
“He knew the rules … although there’s a subjective part to (umpiring), he used his encyclopedic knowledge of the rules. If there were changes, he really enjoyed that aspect, and he liked teaching it, too. He liked getting other people excited about it, and got a lot of my friends when we were in high school, when they start training you to be an umpire, into it that way.”
Sanks remembers her father was not one to put up with explosive emotional moments from players, either those on teams he coached or those he dealt with as an umpire.
“It’s sad that there are so many stories about that on the news these days,” she said.
Delfino had a close friend, Andrew Vanche, who was a Korean War veteran and also shared a passion for baseball and umpiring. Vanche ran the umpire roster in their Ohio recreational league that employed Delfino for years; Vanche passed away in 2019 as well.
“It would be a great thing to have veterans in that role. They are used to a certain amount of taking charge in situations,” she said.
For more information about Protect the Game, or to donate supplies or monetary support, please contact Jordan Cohen at (970) 672-0575 or firstname.lastname@example.org
At the start of 2019, the Protect The Game initiative was mostly a product of ideas, imagination and aspiration.
With ever-growing portions of the youth sports world feeling the pain of referee/official shortages, and the always pressing concerns about how to reintroduce military veterans to civilian life, Protect The Game began the year intent on pulling these two topics together. The idea took flight, where ex-military men and women would receive training on how to be a sports official – already possessing the skills to master and execute a rulebook, these veterans would also have the personality traits that could bring order and calm to sporting events that sometimes see players, parents and coaches respond with strong emotion.
In November, PTG can look back with pride and say the Ed Jones Military Veterans as Sports Officials Training Center has taken root. Three separate certification sessions have been held at the center, based in the home office of Triple Crown Sports in Fort Collins, Colo.
Ed Jones was in on the ground floor of Triple Crown Sports in the early 1980s, handling umpire assigning chores for slow pitch softball, and then transitioning to fastpitch as TCS moved in that direction. He attended Texas A&M and served in the military; his ashes are buried beneath home plate on the main field at TCS.
Protect The Game is grateful for the progress enjoyed in 2019 and pleased to dedicate all the energy and effort to this point, and going forward, in the memory of Ed Jones.
When Greg Wilson heard something that spoke to his heart, he spoke to someone right away to see how he could help.
Wilson calls Denver home and has two occupations – he’s an official with the National Football League, and he also work 1-4 days a week at Honig’s Gear for Sports Officials, which is located near Federal Blvd. and 6th Ave. In his travels, he caught wind of the Protect The Game initiative that was rolled out in 2019 and immediately connected with PTG’s mission of training veterans of military service to become certified officials in youth sports.
Protect The Game has another training session set for prospective officials Oct. 25-27 at Triple Crown Sports. Triple Crown will also host a PTG Open House and Silent Auction from 5:30-8 p.m. Oct. 26, with current MLB umpire Chris Guccione as the featured speaker. After Wilson got everyone connected, Honig’s became the official uniform partner of Protect The Game and will be providing needed gear to officials as well as donating items to Saturday’s silent auction.
“I either read an article or saw something, but I heard about Protect the Game somehow, some way. I then asked my office to contact them and see if Honig’s and Protect The Game could work together,” said Wilson, who is in his 12th season with the NFL and has been a back judge for the balance of his time. “The mission or cause in getting veterans involved in youth sports and trying to build the number of officials in youth sports (is important) … along with the stand you took regarding behavior of parents, coaches, fans and players that is directed at officials. That was a very strong stand on violence against sports officials, and that caught my eye. It’s something I’m passionate about, that behavior toward officials has to change or else there won’t be sports officials. We’ll go on and do something else.
“Trying to get military veterans involved is hugely important. I consider all the men and women who have served to be my heroes – what they’ve gone through to protect American values and democracy, I’m just very appreciative.”
Wilson has substantial history working within youth athletics as he came up through the NFL system. It started in Torrance, CA.
“One job going through high school and college was to officiate youth sports. I did Pop Warner and high school football, youth and high school basketball, then kept progressing,” Wilson said. “My son played sports, so I always coached. I knew there was a line you didn’t cross with umpires and officials. I made a lot of friends in Pop Warner, and a lot of those guys are officiating college football.”
Wilson said he was a voice of defense for sports officials as he watched his son from the stands, and he’s also had the pleasure of watching his son discuss calls with officials who probably didn’t know this particular player had such an intense background with the world of referees.
“We’ve watched football training tapes and watching plays with me since he was a tiny kid. He’s well educated,” Wilson said with a laugh. “It’s fun watching him have conversations with refs and their calls.
“This cause is so important – in this day and age, the crazy times we live in, it’s even more important to support veterans and what they do for the country.”
For more information on Protect The Game and how you can support the endeavor, contact Jordan Cohen at (970) 672-0575 or email@example.com
(l-r, Cory Blaser, Drew Goodman (Rockies TV), Chris Guccione, Josh Cordova, Tony Randazzo and Laz Diaz)
On Oct. 26, there will be an Open House at Triple Crown Sports in Fort Collins sponsored by Protect The Game, a non-profit initiative designed to introduce service veterans to the world of youth sports officiating.
Scheduled to speak at the gathering is MLB umpire Chris Guccione, who has a 22-year career as an ump and earned full-time status in the majors in 2009. He just finished working the National League Championship Series (his fourth LCS); he has worked six Division Series as well as the 2016 World Series.
While most sports officials envision a life not making headlines, Guccione did hit the news cycle this summer, for positive reasons. A Colorado native, Guccione heard about the incident in Lakewood, CO, in June where a 13-year-old umpire, Josh Cordova, was calling a 7u game that ended up dissolving into a full-out brawl between parents, the video of which went viral on social media.
Guccione made some calls and arranged for Josh and his family to attend the June 30 game between the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers, and he also spoke with Josh about what happened in Lakewood and how to approach the job of umpiring.
“Anytime you can get people involved, folks like veterans who might be able to help out, I’m 100 percent on board. I think it’s great,” Guccione said about Protect The Game.
Here’s a quick Q&A with Guccione – the Protect The Game Open House runs from 5:30-8 p.m. at the TCS corporate office, 3930 Automation Way, Fort Collins, CO, 80525.
Q: What’s your take on the struggles in keeping youth officials coming through the pipeline, and how did your time with the Cordova family come together?
A: I’ve seen the articles and news stories about the lack of officials. In the last couple years, it’s become a problem. From what I’ve seen, men and women don’t want to become officials because of the fans. To them, for the dollars they are making, it’s just not worth it.
When I saw what had happened there at Bear Creek, I did some research and was able to track down his association, and then I was able to get a hold of his dad, Josh Sr. I sent them an email, introduced myself, and it worked out great because I wasn’t even supposed to be in Denver at the time. I was changing (MLB umpire) crews, and I thought it was an opportunity to reach out to the family, especially Josh. His dad called me right away, and things started steamrolling.
I wanted to encourage him … stuff happens, people will say things, and what you did was right. That’s the whole thing about officiating, keeping the integrity of any sport. We do that the best we can, no matter where you are at, what organization – keep the truth and integrity of the game. I wanted to encourage him not to give up. Unfortunately, he was in the middle of a brawl on the field. Now, interestingly, right after all this I had people come up to me and say they had that happen to them in the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s … people of every age. Today, it was something that hit social media and the whole country saw it. It’s been going on forever, and it needs to stop – with education, and with people realizing umpires are doing the best they can.
Q: Stories of bad behavior from parents and coaches seem to sprout up all the time. Are things getting worse?
A: We see it more because of cameras and social media, how everyone can take a video now and hide behind the screen. You can umpire the Little League World Series, literally 13-year-old baseball, and criticize it from their seat. It’s more open, so maybe it has become more normalized. But remember, you’ll have haters no matter what you do. It took me a long time to realize that. Officiating, acting, politics – there are haters. You got to let it go like water off a duck’s back. It takes a certain kind of person to be an official; you have to have passion for the game. You’re not going out there to get rich doing it at the amateur level. I got into it because I love the game. I tell anyone who’s complaining about officials, there equipment out there, so go do it yourself. Maybe that’s a slippery slope …
Q: MLB umpires are under a different level of critical observation, what with computer overlays of strike zone and all kinds of analytics being used. Has this been a positive development?
A: The technology has definitely helped us in our umpiring world. We’ve been able to fine-tune the strike zone. We are always trying to be 100 percent accurate. Guys are pretty consistent with the strike zone. We get evaluated after every plate job, after every base job, we look at it the next day on the computer. We analyze pitches and look at how catchers are catching the pitch – it’s all been to our advantage. Now, every network has that box on the screen, but as an umpire you focus on your zone. We don’t have imaginary lines to use, but we do have left-handers throwing a ¾-arm (slot) slider, coming into a right-hander who’s blocking the plate, with a catcher in the way. There’s a lot of stuff goes on, and guys do an awesome job. We’re more accurate now than ever before.