The 2018 AGM of the British Association of Softball Umpires (BASU), held on Saturday 10 February in Slough, reviewed a successful 2017 and set out plans for changes and improvements for the coming season.
The meeting was attended by 14 umpires from around the country.
2017 in review
BASU Secretary Pete Saunders reported that the number of qualified BASU umpires continues to increase – there were 81 in 2017 -- as does the number of games and tournament days covered by the organisation.
BASU umpires were active at a total of 34 tournaments in the UK in 2017 -- the year in which the organisation celebrated its 25th anniversary -- including six Great Britain Fastpitch League (GBFL) dates and one international slowpitch tournament (the Softball World Series).
As a group, BASU umpired on 54 tournament days, an increase of three days over the previous year. Over 3,000 games were called at these events, including approximately 270 umpired by guest or relief umpires. This marked a sharp decline in the number of relief umpires compared to previous years.
However, Pete noted that eight umpires called more than 100 games each, led by Darrell Pitman with 152, and 10 umpires accounted for 40% of all games covered.
There were approximately 45 slowpitch games where two umpires were used in regular-season tournaments, and in addition, Great Britain Fastpitch League games and most games at BSF Slowpitch National Championships were covered with a two-umpire system, with the cost partially subsidised by the BSF and BASU. This was done to provide a better experience for the players as well as provide umpires with more experience in the system, and there was a lot of positive feedback from players.
There was a feeling at the AGM that the value of the two-umpire system, pretty much a necessity with fastpitch, is gaining traction in slowpitch, and BASU plans to extend the use of the system as much as possible in 2018.
BASU was well represented abroad in 2017, with Darrell Pitman, David Hurley, Jes Sandhu and Jana McCaskill all successfully umpiring at ESF fastpitch competitions. Pete Saunders represented GB at the ESF Slowpitch Super Cup competition, where Chris Moon worked on the administrative side.
In addition, Jana McCaskill, Bridget Cameron and Pete Saunders all officiated at WBSC World Championship or World Cup competitions in the United States.
With regard to training, 58 people attended BASU two-day Slowpitch Qualification Courses in 2017 held by the Manchester, Bristol, East Midlands, Windsor and Solent Leagues and the Greater London Softball Mixed League. Two one-day courses were held in Bristol.
Fastpitch training in 2017 was carried out by Jana McCaskill and Bridget Cameron and Slowpitch Advanced Courses were held in April in Manchester with eight attendees and in Bristol with nine umpires in attendance.
A total of 34 umpire assessments were carried out in 2017.
The use of more live video clips in training courses in 2017 was very popular with trainees, and BASU trainers plan to expand their use in future.
The BASU Committee doesn’t change much from year to year, and when it came to elections, there was only one change from 2017 – a new Kit Officer.
Executive Officers in 2018 will be:
Umpire-in-Chief: Jes Sandhu
Assistant Umpire-in-Chief: Lesley Morisetti
Training Officer: Chris Moon
Secretary: Pete Saunders
Treasurer: Steve Getraer
General Officers are:
BSF Representative: Chris Moon
Fastpitch Officer: Bridget Cameron
Kit Officer: Zuby Choudhury-Lucas
Social Media Officer: Position vacant
The rest of the meeting covered a wide range of topics.
New softball rulebooks are being published by the WBSC for 2018-23 – the Fastpitch Rulebook is already out and the Slowpitch Rulebook will follow shortly.
Bridget Cameron told the meeting that there are few changes to the rules, but that the new rulebooks are arranged more logically than the old versions and should be easier to use once BASU umpires become familiar with them.
Advanced Course in 2018
Following discussions between Jes Sandhu and Chris Moon, BASU plans to change the Advanced Slowpitch Course in 2018, making it a two-day instead of a one-day course, to be held on 28-29 April. Two-umpire mechanics will be added to the course, along with the chance to put theory into practice at the Windsor First Ball Tournament at Farnham Park on 29 April.
The course will be limited to 10 places, and can be used, if necessary, as a re-qualification course. The two-day element will be introduced on an experimental basis in 2018.
The aim is to get more BASU umpires familiar with the two-umpire system, and also to help those who train league umpires, where a two-umpire system is often used for mentoring purposes.
Bridget Cameron told the AGM that on the final day of the Great Britain Fastpitch League season last year, nine BASU fastpitch umpires were calling games, the largest cohort to date. They were Darrell Pitman, Jana McCaskill, David Hurley, Andrew Chase, Jes Sandhu, Andrew Breadman, Paul Fagan, David Morris and Bridget Cameron, and six player-umpires also worked games last season.
Training in 2017 consisted of sessions held on GBFL days to upskill GBFL and national team coaches and managers on technical rulebook issues, including the flex rule, and this will be offered again in 2018. In addition, some player-umpires and slowpitch umpires were given additional help to adjust to umpiring behind the plate in fastpitch games.
“We can offer lots of training options,” Bridget told the meeting, “but there need to be enough people interested to make it worthwhile running sessions.”
Umpire mentoring and grading
Mentoring and grading of umpires in action at tournaments didn’t happen to the extent that BASU intended last year, and the meeting discussed ways in which this could happen in 2018.
There was general agreement that concentration should be on newer umpires working at lower grades in tournaments, and the hope is that a senior BASU umpire can be assigned at larger tournaments such as Diamonds to assess rather than umpire, with BASU supporting the costs.
The idea will be for the assessor to watch games before an umpire is scheduled for a break, so there is an opportunity for immediate feedback.
Feedback from players will also be encouraged, along with feedback from umpires to Crew Chiefs.
Incident reporting and ejections
The meeting discussed an incident last season involving an ejection and the subsequent confrontation of the umpire by a player who had clearly been drinking,
BASU umpires already have discretion to eject players from a game if they feel that drinking has made them incapable of playing safely, and the meeting agreed that the responsibility for controlling players in this condition has to rest with their team, with forfeit of the game as a potential penalty for teams that fail to do so.
Chris Moon will raise this issue with team captains at the BSF AGM on 24 February, and tournament organisers will be provided with information to put in Tournament Packs during the coming season.
The meeting also agreed on the need to develop and publicise procedures on how decisions on the extent of further penalties (if any) are made following an ejection.
Helmets in slowpitch
With more slowpitch leagues adopting rules on the mandatory wearing of helmets, or at least on making them available, the meeting noted that Umpire-in-Chiefs will need to be familiar with the rules at any given event in order to enforce them.
At the moment, however, these rules apply more to league play than to tournaments.
Swapping 12” and 11” balls
In co-ed slowpitch tournaments where both 12” and 11” balls are used, the custom has arisen over the past few years of first base coaches swapping the balls in and out of play.
However, for reasons of both safety and efficiency, BASU would prefer that ball changes are made by the home plate umpire, and this will be introduced in NSL competition during the coming season and carried on during Co-ed National Championships.
With all NSL teams due to have a representative at the BSF AGM on 24 February, Chris Moon will make an announcement there.
Umpires and MVP decisions
Many tournaments present MVP awards from final games, and often the BASU umpires who call the final are asked to also select male and female MVPs.
However, the general feeling at the AGM was that umpires need to concentrate on umpiring and are in no real position to judge who might have been the outstanding players during a game – this responsibility should lie with tournament organisers or official scorers.
In future, BASU umpires will decline this request.
Pete Saunders reminded those at the meeting about policies recently publicised by the BSF Executive – a protocol for what to do in case of lightning during a game or tournament, and a re-statement of BSF policy on women playing while pregnant.
The BSF policy on lightning can be downloaded from the BSF website here.
With regard to women playing while pregnant, the BSF regards this entirely as a matter of choice for the woman concerned. Teams that decline to play against a team with a pregnant woman player will forfeit the game.