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Attitude, positioning key in officiating
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Forsyth County News

Officiating sports is a thankless task.

From profanity-laced tirades to having one call after another questioned, J.D. West and Chuck McBride have heard it all.

"You have to tune the fans out," West said.

"You don’t need to speak to fans and don’t argue with them. It’s hard to do sometimes, but you have to remain professional."

The ability to remain calm in often hostile environments has allowed both men to enjoy years of making calls on the field, and they believe its a key trait of good umpires and referees. 

West, the co-owner of True Blue Umpiring, has umpired travel and recreational league baseball and softball since 2005, while McBride started calling high school games in 1975.

In the seven years West has umpired, he has never ejected a coach. Instead, he patiently listens to what the coach has to say, then sends him back to the dugout instead of the showers.

"I’m laid back and try to get along with everybody," West said. "I cut up with the kids and coaches. I tell the coaches before the game starts that if they have a problem to talk with me. I usually let him say his peace."

McBride, who works exclusively with recreational league sports as a member of the Chattahoochee Baseball Umpires Association, said he never played sports in high school.

He doesn’t think it matters whether officials played the sport they are officiating as long as they know the rules and have the right temperament.

"It doesn’t matter what you did as long as you have good negotiating skills and people skills," McBride said. "You definitely can’t be argumentative or quick-tempered."

Testing procedures vary significantly between officiating organizations.

McBride said the Chattahoochee Baseball Umpires Association requires a score of 80 on an open book, 100-question multiple choice test before their umpires are eligible to work games.

In order to move up a level in officiating, the person must take another exam.

True Blue Umpiring forgoes lengthy written exams for its umpires. Instead, a veteran official will randomly watch a game from the stands to evaluate a trainee.

West teaches 8-15 clinics per year. His students receive instructional handouts and learn how to make calls and the hand signals that go along with them.

But establishing a working knowledge of the rules and regulations of a sport is only the first step. There’s no substitute for hands-on experience, West said.

"It’s just like anything you do," he said. "The more you do something, the better you get.

"I’ve missed a call, everyone’s missed a call, but I think missed calls are few and far between. I’d say that about 95 percent of calls made are the right call."

West, who played high school baseball at Sprayberry and college ball at Southern Polytechnic State University, said being in the right position is one of the biggest keys to making the right call .

"Umpiring is a game within the game," he said.

"The first base umpire is looking at something totally different than the home plate umpire. You have to know where to position yourself to get the right angle to make the right call.

"I tell everyone to call what their eyes see, not what’s going through their mind."