Katherine Atkins did not know much about Major League Baseball umpires when she was in high school, scrambling for scholarships to cover the costs of college.

Adopted by her aunt and uncle when she was 15, Katherine came across an adoption website that mentioned the UMPS CARE All-Star College Scholarship. She took a chance, applied and earned the scholarship and is on track to graduate from Appalachian State this spring.

The scholarship provided her with $10,000 per year for four years.

But what she received was way more than she ever imagined.

The UMPS CARE All-Star College Scholarship is more than just giving a check to a young adult in need. It is about mentoring that young adult through the difficult transition into college and guiding them toward their future. Each scholarship recipient is paired with a Major League Baseball umpire and others from the umpire community, who serve as their college teammates.

“When I was a senior in high school, my aunt and uncle told me I would need to look for scholarships for college, so I did some hefty research and found some scholarships from the local community – $1,000 from one, $1,000 from another and maybe $500 from another,” Katherine said.

“I decided to take a shot on this one from UMPS CARE, and I couldn’t be more thankful,” she added. “It really did change my life. What you guys are doing at UMPS CARE changes lives.”

For Katherine, her mentors are Fieldin “Cubby” Culbreth and Amy Guccione, wife of MLB Umpire Chris Guccione. Katherine got a chance to meet Cubby over lunch in Boone, North Carolina. Cubby lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, about a 2 ½ hour drive from Boone. The drive was well worth the scenery, but the time spent meeting Katherine in Boone made the road trip worth every minute.

He was impressed by Katherine’s dedication to her courses but her work ethic. A health care management major, Katherine has a job at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. None of this would have been possible without the help of UMPS CARE’s scholarship funding.

When the scholarship program first started with UMPS CARE, there was no mentorship component, but now it has become an integral part of the effort – and it probably has become the most important component.

“Getting the money was great but adding in the mentorship makes it 10 times better” Katherine said. “To have someone who genuinely cares for me and my success and doesn’t care if I get all A’s helps so much.”

The hope was for Katherine to meet Cubby at a ballgame, but the pandemic had its own ideas about those plans. Typically, MLB umpire mentors host scholarship recipients before a game, but there’s plenty of time to make that a reality down the road.

Cubby is especially impassioned about the college scholarship program as he and Claire adopted a child and understand the need for the program. He and Katherine connected through this but also because Cubby’s daughter was born in Guatemala and Katherine’s longtime boyfriend’s family is from Guatemala.

Cubby hasn’t been the only one pulling for Katherine. Throughout her college career, Amy would reach out to Katherine by phone and text messages. Both Amy and Katherine share a passion for the outdoors, so they bonded over discussions about hikes and nature. Gift packages from Amy always seemed to hit the right note.

“She sent me a water bottle with mountains on it, and I literally use it every day,” Katherine said. “And she gave me an outdoor blanket that I keep in my car for when I go on hikes.”

Katherine is planning to visit Amy and Chris in Colorado at some point once it is safe to do so.

Amy and Katherine also bonded over career interests. Amy has a master’s degree in public health and worked in health care as a nurse practitioner.

“It really felt like having a pen pal,” Amy explained. “The scholarship money is really helpful but really, it’s about the human connection. The point of being a mentor is to guide them on their own path, and there is a coming together on that path,” she added. “The beauty of the mentorship is that both people come out stronger.”

Applications are now available on our website and the deadline is May 21, 2021. Learn more HERE.