Why Officiate

This article can be found in a monthly column in the MYAS update.

From the desk of Larry Gallagher...


From the time I was seven years old, I was in love with sports. Why? I have come to the conclusion that matching my skills, strength, agility and knowledge against others was very enjoyable. Not only was it fun but it proved to me I could excel at some part of the game and it also showed my weaknesses that needed to improve for me to get even better at the game. I have found that these early game experiences carried over to my officiating. 

I have analyzed my own officiating experiences and many of my colleagues' experiences and have come to the conclusion that most officials love to compete and when they compete at a high level, they gain a great deal of personal satisfaction. 

How does one get interested in officiating? I am not exactly sure but by observing and listening to my colleagues and using personal experience, I have concluded there are as many varied reasons as there are officials. One reason is that a friend shows you that you could become an official. Jim McMurchie showed me the need for umpires in the fast pitch softball league I was playing in, and I found it fun umpiring guys I played against. 

I remember a really good former Northwest umpire named Jimmy Lee. Jimmy was always enjoying himself as an umpire and that made a very good impression on me as a player. He just bubbled with enthusiasm. Later, I had the pleasure of umpiring with Jimmy before he retired from the game. There is a recreation center in St. Paul named after Jimmy Lee. He was a great person and a wonderful official. 

Joe Vancisin, my summer baseball coach when I was 11 to 16 years old, taught us a lot of baseball and also allowed me to be an umpire from behind the mound in our morning league (in-house) in the Columbia Heights Recreation Program. It was fun and I learned a lot about how to deal with kids, both as a coach and as an umpire. Joe gave me the chance to develop leadership as a player, coach and umpire. He became the Yale University basketball coach when he left Minnesota. He also became the NCAA Executive Secretary for the Basketball Coaches Association and held that position for 17 years. His last duty was the 1992 NCAA Basketball Tournament at the HHH Metrodome in Minneapolis. He is now in his 90s and lives in New Haven. 

Another reason some umpires get into the game is because they had an unpleasant situation caused by an umpire's apparent incorrect decision that spurred the player to say, "I can do better than that!"  

I have found there are many stages of officiating: 

Stage One is saying and believing, "I can do better than the other guy." So this might be the competitive stage. 

Stage Two is messing up a call or play so badly that you realize you still have more to learn. 

Stage Three is when you are learning more and thinking you have finally arrived. 

Stage Four is when you know you have arrived and realize you are still looking for that perfect game, striving to always be professional, and acknowledging that you have made mistakes along the way and keep working hard to get better at what you do. 

The Final Stage is recognizing that you didn't get to where you are without help and you thank all the people who have made it possible for you to get to your level of talent. This includes your family, friends and umpire colleagues who have always supported you. 

Yes, I know you were expecting to hear about giving something back to the game, the extra money, staying in shape and serving the sporting community, etc. That stuff is important too but we really do it because we are competitive and want to become the best we can be. 

However, I am more of a pragmatist than that. I feel the best officials are those who are more selfish. We love a challenge. Therefore, we officiate because we get our kicks from doing well and being leaders where many others would fear to even try. The greater the challenge, the greater our personal satisfaction.  

When we compete as officials, we compete together as a team and when that really works, we win. This is not a scoreboard victory but it is still a victory in every other sense of the word. Let's all vow to strive for perfection each time we go out on the court, field, ice or wherever our competition occurs. 

Enjoy the rest of your officiating career. None of us know when it will be over. So enjoy it while you can and do your best each time you have the opportunity. Since it is getting near the end of my own officiating career, each game or competition becomes that much more important for me. 

I have had the luxury of being a player, coach, manager, league officer and official and the games I have played, coached, managed and umpired have been so important to my development as a human being. I cherish all the friendships and challenges I have met because they give me the strength to be the best person I can be.


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