CLEVELAND (WJW) – Excitement is building for the high school baseball season, but there’s a problem, fewer people are showing up to umpire and officiate the games, opening the door for potential cancellations or rescheduled games.

Longtime umpire Bruce Epstein has seen a lot of baseball over nearly three decades while working for the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA).

He’s concerned that there may not be enough umpires in Eastern Cuyahoga County this year.

“We’re looking at a mass exodus because of the pandemic a couple years ago and a difficulty in recruiting new officials again,” Epstein said. “Just as we’ve seen in so many areas of society, there’s a shortage on a lot of places.”

Epstein serves as the President of the Eastern Cuyahoga County Umpires Association (ECCUA), who are operating with about half staff for what they need to operate comfortably.

“Some high school and middle school games that cannot be played on occasion because there aren’t enough officials, there aren’t enough umpires to manage the games,” Epstein said. “That’s really a shame for the kids.”

OHSAA is focused on fixing the problem at the high school level, so it has created an online curriculum that intends to make the certification process easier. There has been a lot of interest from folks, but getting people to fully complete the training has been a problem.

“The next challenge we have is getting them from interest and getting those online curricula, to getting on the field and doing some clinic-type work, and then going actually to officiating and umpiring,” OHSAA Director of Officiating and Sports Management Beau Rugg said.

Rugg said umpiring is a worthy cause that allows you to give back to kids by working their games, but it’s also a way to earn some extra money.

“For doing a couple of games, you’re coming out of there with $100 for three-or four-hours work,” Rugg said. “It’s not a bad gig.” 

Big picture: For there to be a future in the sports of baseball and softball for kids, more young adults must get involved in officiating, because without them, games cannot be called fairly and objectively.

“We need officials, at all levels,” Epstein said. “Baseball is particularly hard hit, and fast pitch softball, also. We need people who are interested of all ages.”

If you are interested in becoming an official or umpire, the ECCUA is willing to answer any questions about classes. Details for how to register for classes can also be found here.