High school players step up to the plate to help tackle umpire shortage

Submitted photos – Experienced local umpires, Jeff Bertotti, left, and Jan Henry, right, have been training local high school players to be umpires for Humboldt Fastpitch this spring.

By Ray Hamill — The Humboldt Fastpitch softball season gets under way this weekend, and thanks to an impressive response from local high school players, a lack of umpires won’t be a concern this year.

One of the biggest challenges facing the local association in recent years has been finding enough umpires to officiate so many games, especially during the high school season.

A declining number of available local umpires hasn’t helped matters, but Humboldt Fastpitch founder and president Kelly Wolfe Helms decided to meet the challenge head on this year, and the response, she says, was unprecedented.

With the help of local officials Jan Henry and Jeff Bertotti, the association organized a couple of training sessions over the past two weekends for girls interested in becoming umpires for the upcoming season.

And Wolfe Helms was delighted with the turnout.

“As a result of us really limping by last year, we hit the ground running this year,” she said. “And the response among teenage high school softball players was phenomenal.”

Nine players signed up for the opening session — including Fortuna’s Libby Johnston, Eureka’s Kaitlin Giacone and Arcata’s Lillian Cunningham — and that number jumped to 20 the following weekend, all of whom will begin umpiring at this weekend’s two-day season-opening jamboree.

And that dramatically relieves the pressure on finding enough umpires for a successful season.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Wolfe Helms, who founded Humboldt Fastpitch Softball in 2011. “Not only are these young ladies giving back, but historically in our county (these numbers are) unprecedented.”

The newcomers will get their feet wet this weekend alongside some veteran officials, such as Henry and Bertotti, and the hope is to immediately address any concerns these new umpires have so that all of them can begin officiating games on their own as the season moves forward.

And the impressive response from the local high school players couldn’t have come at a better time for Humboldt Fastpitch Softball with a record number of young girls signing up to play this spring.

Some of the local high school players at the recent umpire training classes.

A total of 520 players aged 4 to 16 will compete on 49 teams in five different age groups, 6U, 8U, 10U, 12U and 14/16U.

That’s up about 50 players and nine teams from the pre-COVID highs.

“I think softball is on the upswing in our county, and it’s exciting to see,” Wolfe Helms said. 

The weekend jamboree will be split between two locations, with games taking place at Newburg Park in Fortuna and Hiller Park in McKinleyville.

The season will run until the finale tournament on weekend of June 10th.

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