LAURINBURG — There are a lot of numbers involved in softball — innings, balls, strikes, outs, pitch count, number of players — but the most important number is 18.
Eighteen is the number of officials — all from North Carolina — who are working the 104 total games that will take place throughout the course of the five-day Dixie Softball State Tournament. Without those 18 people no pitches are thrown, no trophies are handed out and no champions are crowned.
Umpires are not always the most liked person on the field — often getting yelled at by parents, coaches and even players depending on the call.
Head umpire Russ Brown has been officiating Dixie softball for 17 years and said knowing the rules is the key to being a good umpire.
“Where the inconsistencies people often complain about in officiating comes from is the variations in the rules,” he said. “There are local league rules then there are state mandated Dixie rules. Some of them don’t understand, for instance, one of the teams was used to playing six innings per game and our games are five. It’s just getting on the same page.”
Another key thing umpires need is patience, according to Brown, because when things get heated officials need to be the ones with a cooler head.
“A lot of it is parents don’t know the rules. They are gonna holler, it’s about knowing the rules and following them correctly. The best thing that helped me out was that I was a pastor,” he said.
So far this tournament, the umpires haven’t had any issues with any of the coaches or parents.
“This is the first one this year, normally you’ll have a few little hiccups here and there but so far everything has been good,” Brown said.
North Carolina Director of Dixie Softball Ron Hudson said without officials it’s just recess.
“They are the number one aspect, other than players, if you didn’t have players you’re not going to have a ball game, but if you don’t have good umpires it’s recess. They are crucial in keeping the game flowing,” he said.
Hudson is a Dixie umpire, but cannot call games at the state level because he serves as tournament director. He also doesn’t officiate at the World Series because he has teams from North Carolina that he represents as a state director.
“During the regular season and up to districts I call games,” he said. “I do it for the fun of the game and to give back to the girls, I don’t do it for the money.”
Umpires are paid $30 per game and Scotland County Parks and Recreation covered the cost of the hotel rooms for the umpires — but gas, food and any other expenses are the individual’s responsibility. With 18 umpires taking turns officiating 104 games, each will make less than $200 for five days of work.
Hudson has been extremely pleased with how his officials have done during the tournament and even received a compliment from one of the coaches.
“Sampson County’s coach came up after the game and told me I had two of the best, most professional umpires that he’s ever seen,” Hudson said. “The coach said he has a travel ball team and he said you just don’t get the respect he got this week from our Dixie umpires anywhere else. “Everything so far this tournament has gone very smooth. I’ve got umpires up in the press box just in case one of the umpires calling a game right now goes down.”
Hudson said the officials are a big family — cooking out together several times this week.
“It’s a family thing. If I was in Florida, I could call one of the officials and they would be right there,” he said.
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or [email protected]