For a young woman who has not yet graduated from high school, grade 12 student Shelbey McNair of Carlyle has already taken on a big job-that of Umpire-In-Chief for Saskatchewan Softball's District One- an area “bordering Manitoba and the U.S., then up to Estevan and Weyburn, to just outside Regina.”
McNair, 17 has already officiated at Softball Canada's 2015 Championships in Victoria, B.C., and will be one of the umpires officiating this year at the 2016 Saskatchewan Summer Games in Estevan and another national championship in Montreal later this year. And although she's headed for post-secondary school, she doesn't rule out the possibility of acting as an umpire internationally. “Canada has paired with a few different places,” she says. “Australia and the UK are two of them.”
“I'd done a few big tournaments in Regina before going to nationals in Victoria, and the competition was very good. But the calibre of ball at nationals was the best competitive ball I've seen. It was a really great experience and I had the best (umpire) team I could have hoped for. They were younger and very helpful. A lot of my fellow umpires were from B.C., and we had one guy from Winnipeg, some from Toronto and the rest were from Montreal and other parts of Quebec.”
McNair's path to officiating began with her love for the game-both as a baseball player and as a fan.
“I started playing fastball pretty much every year up until last year,” she says. “I played hardball when my dad (John McNair) coached.”
“Travelling on a hardball team, a lot of people were not quite so happy that I was a girl playing on a team in a guys' league, but part of the reason was that they needed extra players. A lot of the coaches, players and even some of the umpires wouldn't treat me as an equal as a player.”
“One particular player on a(n opposing) team hated that fact I was there. I heard his coach tell him to pitch the ball at me every time I came up to bat-and he did.”
“It was so entertaining,” smiles McNair. “By the time he hit me in the leg in the 5th or 6th inning, I hardly even noticed. It was just like a mosquito bite, even though some of the people around me were talking about it.”
“That's part of the reason I became an umpire.”
“When I started in 2011, I was 12 or 13 years old. You start out by attending a clinic and later on, you do actual field work, where you have the chance to try out techniques you've learned in class. And there are also written tests.”
“ For Umpire-In-Chief, they send an umpire out to watch a few of your games-which is kind of nerve-wracking, but they'll help you, too. And when you apply the techniques they give you, you get better.”
McNair says officiating in her hometown “is really great. Working in the Carlyle area, we have the ability to utilize the two-man ump system, so there's always someone there to help you out.”
“And coaches and players around here have become really good and they're also so respectful, so it's really a good experience to work here.”
McNair says preparations for a busy ball season are already underway. “I go to B.C. in March to take an Instructor/Evaluation course in Richmond. There are 15 Saskatchewan umpires going. This summer, I would love to get a lot of games because the money I earn will help me with my college tuition, and umpiring as much as I can will also help me prepare for the Summer Games in Estevan.”
To help fund this next stage of her officiating education, McNair held a hot dog sale and two bottle drives, raising the over $2,200 required to cover the cost of the Instructor/Evaluation course in B.C.
“I have so many people to thank,” she says. “I'd like to give a big thank you to all of the businesses, individuals and organizations in Carlyle and Arcola and my family-who came out-including my grandma, Shirley McNair and her friend, Elsie McConnell and Mary McNair, Karen Fisher and Sonia Wilson.”
McNair says she has also received help from other benefactors when it comes to aiding her career progression as an umpire.
“Getting the opportunity to umpire at the Summer Games-along with Alanna and Kruz Wilson, who are also coming from Carlyle as umpires-is usually by word-of-mouth,” says McNair. “That's how I went to the Canadian Championships last year. A few people-and I'm still trying to figure out who-recommended me. I was evaluated there and they gave me a really good evaluation. That got back to Saskatchewan's head umpire, and that led to District One Umpire-In Chief.”
McNair says her new position “is a big job. It'll be pretty hands-on this summer. In addition to umpiring, I'll be compiling a list of acting umpires in my district, travelling a bit to other places to meet other umpires as an instructor/evaluator, and actually assign provincial and national umpires.”
“It's really helped me develop a personality,” she says. “You can't be a timid umpire. It really helps you put yourself out there and boost your confidence, because you're out there to have a really good game and make sure that everybody enjoys good games, whether they're in the stands or on the field. While we are there to officiate the game and make sure it goes smoothly, umpires are also there for the protection of players and spectators.”
“It's funny, I always kind of hoped to get to Nationals, but I thought I'd be playing,” adds McNair.
“But being an umpire has already given me so much-especially leadership skills and confidence.”
“Even my grad colours are blue and silver---my parents joke that I'll never get out of my blues.”