April 27, 2023
A South Jersey little league baseball organization is turning the tables on parents and other spectators who object to the calls made by volunteer umpires. The new rule: if you harass the ump, you have to don the mask yourself and do the job at three upcoming games, or else you can't continue to attend as a fan.
Deptford Little League president Don Bozzuffi got fed up with his umps being loudly criticized for their work on the field. His frustration boiled over when two volunteers recently quit due to the atmosphere at youth games.
"They're being abused. They don't need that, so they're walking away," Bozzuffi told 6ABC.
The little league in Gloucester County has baseball divisions for different age groups, from tee ball up through minors, juniors and majors.
Bozzuffi said he doesn't understand why people in the stands think their vantage points give them better insight into calling balls and strikes.
"They think that the call was bad, which always amazes me that they can see a strike better over there than the umpire can right there, one foot in back of (the batters)," Bozzuffi said.
The goal of the new policy is to show spectators that umping a little league baseball game isn't as easy as it looks. The little league will still have trained umpires accompanying loudmouth spectators who run afoul of the rule.
Rowdy behavior among parents — and even coaches — has been a common problem in youth sports.
Two years ago, in Kentucky, a tee ball game devolved into an infield brawl after the coaches of two teams of children ages 5 to 7 disputed an umpire's call. A video captured a portion of the sordid affair and police investigated the incident.
The same year, three youth baseball coaches in Florida were charged with disorderly conduct and suspended after a viral video showed them fighting after an argument broke out during a chippy game.
And in Colorado in 2019, a brawl broke out among parents at a youth baseball game over a call made by a 13-year-old ump.
Even celebrities sometimes have a hard time controlling their tempers at youth games. Former 76er JJ Redick, who coaches his son's basketball team in New Jersey, got ejected from a game earlier this month after complaining about a traveling violation called on his son. Redick said he later cleared the issue up with the ref, who apologized to another coach for ejecting Redick.
Former Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount, who now coaches youth football in Arizona, apologized last October after he threw punches at an opposing coach. Video of the incident went viral and Blount acknowledged he was out of line.
Bozzuffi said he hopes the new policy in Deptford serves as a reminder for parents to think about the examples they set for kids.
"They're not baseball players, they're children," Bozzuffi said. "So always keep that in the back of your mind and let them play."