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LETTER: Umpire's comments at softball tournament unacceptable

['WS-xx-letter to the editor']
['WS-xx-letter to the editor']

“The boys didn’t have a problem this morning. I guess the girls don’t want to get their hands dirty.”

This was the cretinous remark made by the plate umpire at a children’s softball event at Softball Newfoundland and Labrador’s (SNL) annual Mite FUNtastic hosted by Carbonear Aug. 25-27. Aimed at children 10 years of age and younger, executive director Dave Feener said the event is “meant to be a fun tournament” so that “the kids…finish off the summer with a great experience in the hope that everyone comes back next summer to play softball again.”

The tournament is the largest for SNL each year and this year attracted 24 teams from 10 associations. That accounted for $6,000 in registration income for SNL, which, in Bay Roberts Minor Softball’s case, came directly from the players.

What precipitated such a terrible comment? Friday evening and into the next day, the Carbonear area received a fair amount of rain. It stopped by game time Saturday morning, allowing games to continue.

When our group, the Bay Roberts Rovers female team, arrived at the field for a 10:15 game, I noticed the field was in poor condition with deep puddles in several areas. What was disturbing for me was that batters were stepping to the plate and having to stand in a couple of inches of water. This was something that could have been corrected between innings.

Once our game started and a couple of pitches were thrown, our 10-year-old pitcher indicated to me the ball was soaked and full of sand and difficult to throw. I asked the plate umpire if there was a second ball that could be swapped out and he told me no. I told him she couldn't throw a ball properly that’s covered in sand. I also told him we could provide a second ball if they didn’t have one. 

I asked did he have a towel he could use to clean the ball when needed and at that point he started to get upset. Referring to the game before ours, he then said, “The boys didn’t have a problem this morning. I guess the girls don’t want to get their hands dirty.”

This was his response to not only me but he made sure that the entire field could hear it. In fact, so loud that it elicited audibly incredulous responses from onlookers watching the game.

And the abuse didn’t stop there. I wasn’t made aware of this until the next day, but at one point, shortly after he made that statement, and another pitch landed in a muddied batter’s box, he leans over our nine-year-old catcher as she plucked the ball out and says, “There goes the nails. Better get some more polish.”  

So what happens to a young girl’s psyche when she hears those comments? Will it encourage them to “come back next summer to play softball again”? Does it reinforce archetypes that continue to suppress confidence development in non-traditional areas? This plate umpire was wearing the SNL “blue crew” uniform

 – will the girls in that game look at that uniform differently and expect to be judged in a certain way in future games?

What can SNL do to remove such archaic beliefs to create a healthy environment and hopefully grow the game for all kids? I grew up in the Bay Roberts Minor Softball program starting about 35 years ago. I learned to respect the game and everything about it from people like Kevin Critch and SNL Hall of Famers Langdon Critch, Glenn Littlejohn and Peter Marshall. At no time would they have belittled a small child by implying that they were less of a human being because of their gender nor would they have paid someone to do it.

If SNL is serious about growing the game, the organization needs to focus on growing respect for the game first and fostering a culture of acceptance and equality. That means taking proactive measures to educate all stakeholders including officials and host associations on the importance of respect for everyone.

In 2017, females accounted for 47 per cent of our association’s enrollment. It is just as much a female sport today as it is male. We see that as a positive. It tells us that it’s an accessible sport with no boundaries to gender and that there’s a place for everyone. However, there’s no place for ignorance on or off the field.

— Chris Foley is a member of Bay Roberts Minor Softball

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