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Umpire shortage forcing central Indiana schools to cancel baseball games

ARCADIA, Ind. (WISH) — Middle and high school baseball games are getting canceled because there are no umpires to call the games.

It is a nationwide issue that is especially impacting teams in central Indiana.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association says statewide they are down 11% on umpires to staff games. Baseball specifically is taking the hardest hit this year.

Daniel Jimenez is an assigner for the Indianapolis Umpire Association. His organization is responsible with staffing umpires for 60 schools in central Indiana.

“I would say each day we are about six to eight games that are one man with a number of games that continually get canceled,” Jimenez said.

He says in the last two years, a lot of officials have retired and there hasn’t been enough new interest to replace them. Another deterrent is the start-up cost with equipment alone costing between $400-500.

Then, the leading issue comes from behind the fence: “You know parents that are getting on you and some people come in and just say, well, it is not worth the $70 to go listen to people yell at me for two and a half hours,” said Jimenez.

He says he tries to give two or three days notice if he can’t staff a game in hopes of rescheduling it for another date.

“There are some times when we get up to the day, and then all the sudden because of COVID, I have had three or four situations when we have had to pull an umpire off and replace them with a freshman umpire and put them on the bases on another game. So we have had to cancel that freshman level game or JV level game in order to do that,” said Jimenez.

Luckily, Hamilton Heights High School has not had to cancel or reschedule any games because of staffing. However, about 20 other teams have.

“It is difficult because the umpires have to be IHSAA-certified, licensed IHSAA umpires to be able to umpire. You can’t just pull your uncle onto the field to do it,” said Kurt Ogden, Hamilton Heights High School athletic director.

The severity of the shortage is leading IHSAA to look into reinstating the provisional license, which they haven’t used in about a decade.

“To then help those young kids who have an interest in officiating, put them at our middle school, maybe freshman level depending on their background, already as an official and then work them into varsity level after graduation,” said Sandra Walter, assistant commissioner of IHSAA.

Walter says they are actively recruiting new officials and planning camps, as well as asking former umpires to reinstate their licenses to help out through the end of the season.

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