A coach allegedly broke an ump’s jaw, and two youth leagues take stock

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The head of a New Jersey-based travel baseball league decried a “toxic” environment in youth sports after an incident in which an umpire was allegedly attacked by a coach during a 13-and-under tournament.

The United States Amateur Baseball League called attention to the assault in a Facebook post this month in which it said the 72-year-old umpire had his jaw broken in two places and needed “extensive dental surgery.” The umpire was said to have ejected a coach for violating tournament rules by aggressively arguing a call, at which point the coach approached the umpire and delivered a “sucker punch.”

USABL President & CEO Brian Delahant subsequently told NJ.com the umpire is recovering from his injuries and recently attended a game featuring the team that had been playing against the one whose coach attacked him. The umpire’s intention with the visit, Delahant said, was to show he was feeling better and lift the spirits of “kids [who] were pretty shaken” by the episode.

“The support shown from the baseball community has been overwhelmingly positive since this happened,” Delahant said to The Washington Post on Wednesday via email. “Coaches and organizations have been offering to donate money and kids have been sending homemade get-well cards to the umpire. If there’s anything positive from this whole situation it’s that awareness has been brought to a very serious matter and that we all must be better if we want to keep watching our kids play ball.”

The unidentified coach worked with a team representing New York Prospects, an organization based in Staten Island. The president of New York Prospects, Frank Cambria, apologized in a social media post last week and said he took “immediate action” against the coach.

“When I received the news, it turned my stomach and had me wondering why a person would do such a thing,” Cambria wrote. “There is never, never, ever an excuse to hit an umpire nor another human being when at a sports venue, especially involving children.”

Cambria went on to write that he was disturbed that some of the families at the game continued complaining about the umpire’s calls after he was attacked. That jibed with the account of the incident offered by USABL, which said on Facebook, “Even as police and EMT’s were providing medical attention to the umpire, other parents from the same team were heard shouting expletives at the umpire and saying things like, ‘He deserved it.’ ”

After asserting in his email Wednesday that the “environment for youth sports has become toxic,” Delahant wrote: “Part of the problem is that people will read this and think it doesn’t apply to them. They will say, ‘I would never punch an umpire.’ While I hope that’s true, many still think they’re entitled to scream at an umpire for 2 hours straight. Telling them how horrible they are or that they’re blind and follow them to the parking lot after the game despite the fact that if they acted the same way in a restaurant or supermarket they would be arrested.

“That mentality needs to change. We need to teach our kids that they’re not going to win every game they play and how to lose with respect for both their opponents as well as the officials on the game.”

According to NJ.com, authorities in Branchburg, N.J., where the game took place, are investigating the incident.

Across the nation, youth sports leagues are encountering shortages of game officials. In part that is attributable to the coronavirus pandemic, but some observers also point to an atmosphere of hostility.

At a youth softball game in Mississippi in April, an umpire was allegedly attacked by a parent, who was arrested for assault. The ump shared an image of her black eye online and wrote, “The next time you go to a tournament and you only have one umpire on the field … this is why.”

“When the day comes that your kid can’t play a ballgame,” added the umpire, Kristi Moore, “because there are no longer officials to call it … THIS. IS. WHY.”

“The veterans are quitting by the droves. They’re sick of it,” Moore, who oversees fast-pitch softball umpires for the state of Mississippi, told the Associated Press. “When we work to recruit new people, get ‘em trained, get ’em out there on the field, they’re three or four games in when someone gives them a good cussing out or an invitation to get their tail beat. They’re like: ‘You know what? I’ll go cut grass on the weekend.’ ”

Officials with New York Prospects could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Cambria said in his post last week that he sent a message of “zero tolerance” to members of his organization and he expects them to be “on their best behavior and respect officials, host sites and people in general.”

“When has winning a plastic trophy become more important than the welfare of another human being?” he wrote. “My prayers for a speedy recovery go out to this umpire and all officials that have been abused by parents who just don’t get it.

“It’s a kid’s game that’s supposed to build great memories, not give them nightmares.”

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