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Four women don the blue for Bainbridge Island Little League
Four women have taken the plunge and become part of a group in sports that has one of the toughest jobs in the world – being an umpire.
Sarah Barnes, Sally Browning, Wanda Winker and Leann McDonald just finished their first year as umpires. All four umpired games in the AA baseball division while Winker, who has more experience with the game, worked in all three divisions for baseball and softball games.
They were the first all-female crew (McDonald was missing because of a family emergency) in recent memory to umpire a Bainbridge Island Little League baseball championship game, calling the June 10 game for the AA title between the Mariners and the Cubs. (Winker also worked in the field for the Majors baseball championship.)
The trio handled the situation ably in McDonald’s absence with Browning calling balls and strikes while Winker and Barnes took care of calls in the field.
Each of the three women said involvement in umpiring occurred for different reasons.
“I didn’t want to work in the Snack Shack,” Browning said.
Winker said when she attended games last season, many were played without umpires available.
“I didn’t think it was fair to the boys,” she said.
Barnes said the need to do something different was a factor, but filling the need for umpires was all the more reason to do it.
“I didn’t want to do the team-mom thing anymore,” she said. “Most of the umpires who volunteer, they’re usually interested in the more competitive games. With the kids of younger ages, they don’t always have umpires doing games... I think it was such a great way to start (umpiring) with the younger kids.”
While Barnes and Browning consider themselves baseball fans, Winker said she has been involved with the game for much of her life, including being the first girl to play Little League baseball in her hometown of Lewisville, Minn.
“We didn’t have (a) girls (division) and my dad was the coach so I got to play,” she said.
Winker’s husband, Sean, also works as an umpire, and they have done several games together.
All three said they were nervous before their first game.
“We were shaking,” said Barnes, who worked with Winker for their first AA game. “But we got through it and we had a really good time.”
While there have been many good times, there have been some bad ones as well. They have learned how to be mentally tough when someone questions a call they made.
Barnes said one coach was civil when asking about a ball-strike call, but she said “it gets tense” on the field at times.
“But it does for everyone,” she said. “I just think you have to keep it all in perspective.”
Browning admits she cried during a game after a coach made a comment out loud on an at-bat rules violation call she made while umpiring behind home plate.
“He just went, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it!’” she said. “I went into the changing room and (cried). But that was my very first time (behind the plate)... so now I’ve got thicker skin. Not a tear since.”
Winker said they have had to separate friendship from their calls as well.
“We know these coaches as friends and we see them at the store,” she said.
They also work hard to stay impartial when umpiring games played by their children.
“I’m calling her (Barnes’) kid out on strikes,” Winker said. “It was awful.”
All three have children playing either baseball or softball, and said their kids have been glad to see them out on the field.
“This has been the best thing for him (her son) because he knows now not to question the umpire – ever,” Winker said. “They know how hard we work.”
They also know they have to have short memories when they blow a call.
As all good umpires do, they have become very familiar with the rule book and now know it from cover to cover.
During Friday nights, umpires and coaches meet at the fire station to go over the rules and discuss what to do in certain situations.
After attending the drill session with coaches for the first time, Barnes said she felt overwhelmed.
“I thought, ‘Holy mackerel what have I got myself into?’” she said. “But you just have to go out there and do it over and over so that you learn.”
But thanks to their hard work, all three have said they now feel more comfortable on the field.
“Those three sleep with the rule book under their pillows at night,” said Peter Lindsey, BILL’s umpire-in-chief.
They’ve also had fun working the games and plan to come back next season.
Barnes said she has a goal of working a Majors baseball game next year.
“We’ve got a taste for it now,” she said.
Lindsey said he hopes that their success will serve as an example for other women and inspire them to don the uniform as well.
“The big picture is the power of these boys growing up in a place where they remember the year the moms came out and became umpires,” he said. “I think that’s huge.”