Complicated problems cast a shadow every day, but it’s that rare burst of sunlight that can make you feel like solutions can be found.
Triple Crown Sports works every day in the world of youth athletics and has a front-row seat watching the troubling trend of the disappearing sports official, something that has escalated as behavior by fans and coaches has grown more combative. In every age group and across multiple sports, it’s getting tougher and tougher to find qualified people to handle the chores of calling balls and strikes, to the point where high schools are cancelling games under clear skies and perfect conditions – without “blue” in uniform, everything goes black.
In the competitive travel ball arena, it’s no different, and Triple Crown is fully aware that its own health prospects turn parched when the pool of officials goes dry. After careful consideration, TCS has established a unique response to the problem, one that embraces an at-times marginalized group of people.
This year marks the formal launch of the “Protect The Game – Veterans in Sports Officiating” initiative; once fully rooted, the ranks of sports officials will be boosted by former US military and service personnel who bring their instinctual command of procedure, protocols and discipline to that sometimes hostile ground behind the plate or on the basepaths. There’s anecdotal evidence that suggests veterans need more options to integrate back into civilian life, and Triple Crown believes veterans get it – how to handle authority with responsibility, and how to serve others in a way that helps all parties thrive in the end.
“The entire country is battling a shortage of officials for all sports. I am excited to be part of a great project and looking forward to helping the veterans prepare to become officials,” said Jordan Cohen, executive director of Protect The Game. “This first training class is the start of something big, and we are in the early stages of planning other training opportunities across the country.”
“The platform that we have here provides this opportunity to both get trained through our qualified staff that will certify the sports officials and then, to get on the field or court and immediately begin to earn a wage through the over 100 sporting events that Triple Crown provides annually across the country,” said Patty Harsch, human resources director at TCS and the visionary who first brought Protect The Game to life in the company hallways.
The first look at the Protect The Game mission runs May 8-10 at the TCS home office in Fort Collins, as a small group of veterans will use classroom time, live swings in the batting cage and actual ball-and-strikes duty on the dirt to begin learning the finer points of umpiring. It all begins with outfitting the prospective umpires properly with the necessary gear; there will be deep dives into the rule book and extensive conversation on conflict resolution.
After the training is completed, TCS will connect the veterans to an area “umpire in charge” who will start the process of slowly working the new umpire into the mix: youth divisions, to slightly older Little League-type setting, then up through high school and competitive club ball.
The amount of friction that is routinely seen in coach/umpire and fan/umpire relations is a driving force in driving away umpires, and Triple Crown is already two years in on a Support Your Officials Campaign that is mandating more responsible behavior by fans at youth sporting events.
“Our Veterans have served our country through protecting our U.S. soil, so who better to ‘Protect The Game’ through an intense certification process that teaches them the skill of officiating?” Harsch said. “Especially since our veterans have been trained long before they came to us on skills that are mandatory in managing youth sports games, such as conflict management, quick decision making, assessing a situation and making the best call, time management and having very selective hearing when it comes to unruly situations.”
“I think (Harsch) really hit the nail on the head when she talked about how they can address the shortage of referees and umpires. It’s a great thing for veterans to do this; I grew up playing sports,” said Jonathan Gillman, 29, who served nearly four years in the Army as an infantryman and did his military tour in Afghanistan. “Finding out people don’t want to umpire because of the parents, it makes perfect sense for us to do it. I love giving back, and umpiring youth sports is something that just jumped off the paper for me.”
Once the training program is refined, Triple Crown envisions getting veterans connected to basketball officiating as well. For more information on Protect the Game, go to www.protectthegame.com.