To combat unruly and verbally abusive spectators at baseball games, Deptford’s Little League has implemented a new rule: The offenders will be forced to umpire games or be banned altogether.
The new rule follows the resignation of two umpires over the abuse hurled their ways at games and also coincides with a league umpire shortage, The league has 25 teams of kids ages 4 to 14.
“Ninety-nine percent of fans are calm and well-behaved,” said league President Don Bozzufi. “It’s just that 1% percent that ruins it for everybody. They think they and their kid are being slighted, but they’re not. It was fine for a while, but we’re losing volunteers now because of it.
“These are just kids that are playing and having a good time.”
If a fan is deemed excessively rowdy and abusive toward umpires, the league’s Code of Conduct Committee will make the offender umpire three games, so he or she can appreciate the challenges of umpiring a game. The offender also must agree to officiate before those games.
“The whole idea is to show them how hard it is (to be an umpire) and that close calls are not always easy,” Bozzufi said. “If they want to call the game from 35 feet away, then they can come closer and see what it’s really like.”
Bozzufi noted that the response to the new rule has been “100% positive,” with some fans agreeing the punishment fits the crime. The idea has also generated attention from the media, including ABC’s Good Morning America, USA Today and on CBS’S The Talk.
The league has yet to “punish” a spectator or hear complaints from parents about the new rule.
“They don’t want to test the waters,” Bozzufi noted. “You’ll never get rid of it (unruly behavior) 100 percent. But it will help curb it quite a bit. This is a universal problem with any sport with officiating, not just with little league.
“I’m hoping that the idea catches on and that other leagues begin doing it.”