Chloe has been playing softball since she was 6, so when a torn ACL prevented her from swinging a bat, she was determined to do anything to get back on a field any way she could.
A participant in the Philadelphia Phillies Urban Youth Academy, Chloe heard about the UMPS CARE Official Leadership Program. She did not know much about umpires or officiating, but Chloe begged her mom for a chance to enroll in the 6-week program. It was a way for her to be a part of the game she missed so badly.
Now, having completed the umpire course in December, Chloe has discovered that playing softball wasn’t the only way to enjoy the game. Umpiring turned out to be a new avenue for her not only to be on the field, but an avenue to learn more about the game and to make some money, too.
“Before I took the course, I thought, ‘OK, we’ll learn about strikes and outs and making calls,’ ” Chloe said. “Afterward, I thought, ‘This is crazy. I know so much more about the game.’ ”
UMPS CARE launched the Official Leadership Program in 2021 as a way to combat the national shortage of umpires and sports officials across the country. So many games and tournaments have been canceled and this 6-week course is designed to prepare teens like Chloe on the field with umpire mechanics and drills but also teach them important social and emotional learning skills to train them to be leaders.
Philadelphia was one of four sites where UMPS CARE piloted the program – Washington, D.C., Houston and Harlem are the other three. Programs will be added in Compton, California, and Atlanta this year.
The Philadelphia Phillies partnered with UMPS CARE, offering teens in their Urban Youth Academy and Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities (RBI) programs to enroll in the Official Leadership Program. The Official Leadership Program is free to all students and partner organizations. The program is funded entirely by UMPS CARE Charities and donations to the charity.
The umpire community has rallied around this program. UMPS CARE has teamed up with Ump-Attire.com to provide starter umpire equipment at a discount, and the National Association for Sports Officials and MiBTonline.com, which provides video instruction for umpires and officials, offered discount rates for membership.
In Philadelphia, students got a chance to use the Phillies’ batting cages at Citizens Bank Park (where Bryce Harper and the gang take their pre-game swings) to learn umpire mechanics. The students had a Zoom conversation with retired MLB Umpire Jim Joyce and had a chance to meet MLB Umpire Chris Conroy, who was selected to the 2021 World Series crew.
UMPS CARE created a curriculum designed to teach teens about social and emotional learning skills – such as perseverance, goal-setting and leadership – in addition to financial literacy. Most teens who get involved with baseball and softball did not know they could earn more money than minimum wage calling games. Our program helps them understand how to manage that income. UMPS CARE enlisted support for the curriculum from the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s education department.
In addition, we partnered with minor league umpire Jen Pawol, one of three women currently working in Minor League Baseball as an umpire, to create the umpire mechanics drills and lessons. Jen has been running clinics called Evolve 2 Excellence, and she provides assistance and instruction to our educators. UMPS CARE hires community umpires, many of whom are also local educators, to impart both the social and emotional classroom lessons in addition to the field work.
At the end of the course, teens are connected with local umpires and assignors so they can start working games and receive ongoing mentorship. It is a win-win for the community as the teens work games and help combat the nationwide umpire shortage.
“My coworkers and I could not have asked for a more amazing program than the Official Leadership Program,” said Monica Clark, coordinator of youth baseball and softball development for the Phillies. “We were able to get 18 of our local high school kids to participate in the 6-week course. They did not just learn about umpiring, though. They learned life skills of leadership, commitment, hard work, financial literacy and so much more. Each week it was amazing to see the kids grow.”
Chloe admitted that prior to taking the course she didn’t have much interaction with the umpires, or knowledge of what they had to do.
“Our interactions (with the umpires) weren’t always the best,” Chloe said. “I wasn’t very understanding.”
Now that she is literally in their shoes, she has developed a new perspective. She admitted it was even a little difficult to call young girls out on strikes on the field where she once played games at a young age.
“One thing I learned is how to keep calm,” she said. “If a coach or parent is attacking you, you don’t want to attack.”
Joe Doroba has been working as a baseball and softball umpire in Philadelphia for 16 years, and had known Chloe since she was a young girl. When she started umpiring, Chloe’s mom told Joe, and he came to support her in her umpiring debut.
“I know what it feels like to be behind the plate for the first time,” Doroba said. “It all happens so fast. I would give her little bits of advice in between innings. I was very proud of her. Most of all, she was consistent. I kept telling her, ‘You’ve got all the support in the world.’ “
Doroba was not only happy to see Chloe working as an umpire because it is a personal passion but he believes umpiring teaches such valuable life lessons.
“You’re constantly learning and developing skills,” said Doroba, who caught the umpiring bug after coaching for several years. “When you’re the umpire, you have the final say. You are a leader on the field, and you have to learn to be patient, how to keep yourself composed under pressure. You have to make split decisions on the field.”
(Chloe with Umpire and Mentor Joe Doroba)
In one of her first outings as an umpire, Chloe took a foul ball to the face.
“Someone in the stands said, ‘Hey Blue, are you OK?’ “ Chloe’s mom, Sherry said. “It took me a minute to realize Blue was Chloe.”
Blue, err, Chloe, was OK, and forged ahead.
Chloe and other students in the Philadelphia program had the opportunity to meet MLB Umpires before a Phillies game earlier this year. They had a Q and A session and then got to watch the umpires call the game.
At the game, she even treated a friend to ice cream, thanks to some of the money she earned umpiring.
“If I can offer any advice, it’s to come out of comfort zone and try it,” Chloe said. “You get to meet new people and learn the game in a new way. It really has been amazing.”
Chloe is just one of many Official Leadership Program alums who can now be found working behind the plate! Looking forward to seeing more in uniform!