After more than two decades of officiating local sporting events, Dalton’s Mike Roper has done it all as an umpire and referee in this area. In fact, he’s done a lot of stuff outside the state of Georgia, too.
Now he has a chance to make the calls in another country.
Roper is one of two umpires from the United States who will help work Canada’s national championships for senior men’s slowpitch softball. The tournament, in its second year, takes place Aug. 11-17 in Dorchester, Canada — located in southwestern Ontario, about halfway between Detroit and Toronto — and Roper said he will call two or three games a day.
“I’m kind of hoping to use it like a vacation,” Roper, 55, said while laughing.
The longtime official — 23 years mostly officiating high school and adult basketball and softball — is bringing his wife Debbie (who works for the Whitfield County Parks and Recreation Department) with him to the tournament for the “vacation” and leaving their two dogs at home.
In an interview with The Daily Citizen, Roper discussed life as an official, including some of the things fans shout at him, if he ever has thrown out a player from a game, how he originally expected to be going to another tournament and if he plans to retire anytime soon.
Q: What made you want to become an umpire?
A: Well, I played when I was younger. I played competitive softball for about 10 years when I got out of school. I decided to start umpiring instead of playing and started umpiring every weekend.
Q: You previously said you don’t officiate many adult sporting events anymore. Why?
A: Adults are kind of different because they’re competitive. They’re different than the high schoolers. They’re competitive also. (But the adults) think they’re back in high school and playing baseball.
Q: Some of the competitive natures at sporting events lead to harassing officials. Have you dealt with unruly fans, parents and players? Does it affect you?
A: Yeah, I hear a lot. As far as me personally, no, I try to not let it affect me. I try to not let it get in my mind.
Q: Do you think other umpires are affected?
A: Most definitely they do. I think that’s one of the reasons we don’t have as many people who want to umpire. All the parents getting on the umpires, I think that’s a reason some of the younger kids who umpire for a year don’t come back.
Q: Are there less umpires than say five years ago, and is this the main reason?
A: There’s less. ... All the parents getting on the umpires, I think that’s a reason some of the younger kids who umpire for a year don’t come back. I think all the associations are struggling. They’ll lose two or three a year because the older guys leave and they don’t keep all the younger guys around. ... There’s not a good turnaround on it with the numbers coming in versus what is leaving.
Q: What are some of the most common things fans say to you?
A: You hear all kinds of things. You hear it more in basketball than in softball. You hear all kinds of comments in basketball. I’m bald-headed so I get called “Baldie” all the time and “Don’t let the hair get in your eyes.” I get called it all the time. I just kind of look at them and keep going.
Q: Have you thrown anyone out of a game before?
A: Oh yeah, I’ve had my share, but when I played I got thrown out just as much. But yeah, I’ve tossed a few. I try not to, and it’s not like I do it every game. Most of the time it’s over balls and strikes or close calls at third or anywhere.
Q: Do players or coaches often apologize to you after?
A: You do have that occasionally, depending on the type of person it is. Sometimes people will say things without thinking too much about it and after the game they realize they were wrong and apologize. Especially in the tournaments because they know they will see you again in a later game. So yeah, you have some people who will apologize occasionally, but not all of them.
Q: Have you ever officiated an event outside of the country before?
A: No. I’ve done nine national tournaments that went out of the state. Most of the umpiring has been local.
Q: What is the tournament you are going to?
A: It’s kind of like what the (Amateur Softball Association of America) does in the United States. They’ve done it for two years total and I’m one of two people going this year, so only four umpires from the country have been selected for this before.
Q: You said it wasn’t the tournament you originally thought you were going to?
A: Yes, it’s not the one I thought it was. It’s not the Border Battle (an annual slow pitch softball event between the USA and Canada which will take place June 30 in Oklahoma City). I’m still honored my name was selected. I was chosen from 3,000 umpires. We had over 1,000 umpires from Georgia alone.
Q: What type of process did you have to go through?
A: My state umpire-in-chief (the head of all Georgia umpires) sent my name in to a national pool and the national director chose the two names who he wanted to send. So he chose me and one other guy, and I don’t know where the other umpire is from.
Q: After 23 years, do you picture yourself retiring in the near future?
A: I’ll still do basketball until I can’t. So I don’t look to retire anytime soon. I look to do it in my 60s as long as my health allows me. I run 5 miles four days a week and that helps me stay in shape.