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Why do You Umpire? with Brenda Knapp

Why do You Umpire? with Brenda Knapp

I started umpiring ten years ago with the Champaign Park District’s Rec League working Coach-pitch through 16u games. At first my assignor helped guide and mentor me, and as I became more involved and wanted to work at a higher level, I began attending meetings and clinics.

I LOVE softball! My passion is deep; the love of the game is strong. I enjoy sharing my love of the game with those on the field and hope that I can positively influence players by sharing that passion.

Two  years ago I was approached by an author, Eric Gray, to write about my experience as a female umpire.  He had been working on a book and was dedicating an entire chapter specifically about women in the game, not just observers.  Bases to Bleachers is not like most sports books. “… this is not a biography, or a discussion of a team, or analysis of a season. Baseball here is a setting in which both astounding feats and some of the most beautifully touching moments in peoples’ lives have happened. Whether it’s the first game, falling in love at the park, or even a beloved baseball glove that survived World War II, these stories are about more than just baseball. They reflect the joys, triumphs, and disappointments of the human condition, and often illustrate what’s truly important in life—those things we hold most dear in our hearts.”1

When Eric asked for my story, I decided to share my experiences with the girls that I work with in the summer.  These girls are 3rd to 5th graders learning the game of softball. I’ve spent  the past three summers working with them, and they’ve brought a lot of joy to my life.  I am both honored and humbled to be able to work with them. I only hope that I have brought them as much laughter, joy, and positivity as they have brought me.  This is why I love to umpire softball.  

-Brenda Knapp, Champaign, IL

I had the opportunity to work with a group of young girls this summer, 3rd through 5thgraders.  They were all learning the game of softball and were of varying skill levels.  My job was to use a pitching machine and umpire games. The girls learned everything, batting, throwing, offense and defense. As the season progressed I noticed that some of the girls were not progressing with their batting skills as much as the others.  One thing I know as an umpire is that it is not my job to coach anyone, but with these girls it was easy to decide to help with the coaching. I spent one day watching and making recommendations with batting stances, where to stand in the batter’s box and how to swing.  They were so enthusiastic to learn and some did improve greatly. The coaches and parents were very supportive of my help. Each week these girls played their hearts out and grew with the game.  

 It gave me great pride to hear from the parents what a good job I did and the girls that would just come up to hug me when they saw me.  To me it wasn’t about doing a job, it was about helping girls learn the wonderful game of softball and being a positive role model throughout the season.  I realize this is bridging two different roles, but as a female umpire working primarily in softball, it makes me proud when I walk on a field and an entire dugout of young girls looks at me and says, “”We got a lady umpire, so cool.” That happened a couple of weeks ago and it made me stand a little taller and feel very proud of being a female umpire.

Editor’s Note: Brenda is a member of Central Illinois Softball Assigning. She has worked multiple USA Softball national tournaments and IHSA postseason. 

Bases to Bleachers is available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and in your local bookstore. It was published in July 2019.

  1. D’Aquisto, John, Preface to Bases to Bleachers: (Charleston, SC: Palmeto Publishing Group, 2019), ii-iv.

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“Why Do You Umpire?” with Rob

"Why Do You Umpire?" with Rob

The “Why Do You Umpire?” series features officials from across the state and region telling their stories.

iesa state finals
IESA 2019 State Championship. Photo © Randall Watson

My name is Rob and I operate Central Illinois Softball Assigning, and therefore CISassigning.com. I am currently in my 21st year of umpiring. Umpiring is a passion; it’s something I love. A lot of people ask why. Hopefully this will help explain my story, and will be the first of many posts in the Why Do You Umpire series.

I started umpiring my freshman year of college, the Fall of 1999 as a way to make extra money. I was a young kid who had college expenses and umpiring softball helped me cover those expenses, plus I could set my own schedule. As time went on, I the money mattered less, and every other factor mattered more. ˇ

It’s a social time where I can interact with others whose path I would never cross otherwise. First, my day job has me sitting in front of a computer all day, in an office, by myself. Umpiring is a chance to get out of the house and office.

Second, umpiring also gets me outdoors and active. It’s great exercise (in one 7-inning game behind the plate, an umpire squats an average of 150-200 times). As I said before, my day job has me at a computer. I welcome the opportunity to get outside and am forced to be unplugged, and to an extent unavailable to anyone. An umpire isn’t supposed to have a cell phone or smart watch on the field, so for the duration of that game, it’s just me and my partner. There’s something very refreshing about that.

As time passes and you work different age groups, different organizations (high schools vs travel for example), and in different cities, you get to know others in the umpiring community. The other “blue” is your only ally on the field. The umpiring community is quite small and a quick bond is often formed and life-long friendships develop as a result. All of my best friends are fellow umpires. They’ve been by my side through medical issues, financial struggles, broken relationships, and more. But they’re also there at the high points of life…graduating college, getting a new job, the birth of children. In many respects, umpires have become my family.

Once you’ve spent some time in the profession, umpiring allows you to travel. I know umpires that take 2-3 weeks of the winter to head south and umpire tournaments. They’re getting paid to travel. I usually only work in the midwest, but even that has given me the opportunity to travel, meet people, and experience places I wouldn’t have otherwise.

If you’re thinking about umpiring, I encourage you to give it a try. CISA can help you get started, whether you’re local to central Illinois or live further away, I’ve got contacts throughout the country and am happy to help walk you through the process.