NORTH FULTON, Ga. — Attend a youth baseball or softball game at Bell Memorial Park or North Park and there is a good chance the umpire calling the game will have gone through the Hopewell Youth Umpire Program. The program began quickly and out of necessity, but over the past 25 years it has had an immeasurable impact on local teens who learn far more than making calls on the field.
An oversight by the Hopewell Youth Association in 1996 led Jim Cregge to create the program. Cregge said the association had a record number of registrations that year, and the registration fees did not cover umpire costs for the entire season. Cregge was tasked with finding a solution, and he hired three teens he paid out of pocket that season to serve as umpires.
Since its humble beginnings, the program has evolved beyond umpiring into a mentorship and life-skills program that teaches interviewing, decision-making, co-worker support, how to handle confrontation and how to properly communicate as an adult.
Maliha Hasan has spent four seasons in the program and said it has given her invaluable experiences.
“It has provided me with an extremely well-paying job with immense flexibility, but it has also pushed me into an open, comforting job environment in which I learn a lot in,” Hasan said. “One of the most important aspects of this job is being able to deal with coaches and parents, even when they are angry. I have learned how to always respond in a professional manner no matter how emotional I get.”
Brent Reeves said the program gave his son vital life skills, including how to prepare for a job interview and accountability where, “well, he’s just a teenager,” is no excuse.
“Jim treats these kids like they are coming out of college looking for their first job,” Reeves said. “The interview process is intense, but it makes it even more special when you get the job. Jim will copy parents on important messages, but he expects the kids to keep their own schedule, communicate directly and on time, and he doesn’t tolerate late or absent. If a kid has a conflict, he leaves it to them to find a replacement and work it out, but the job has to be done.”
Brandon Lee, a recent Cambridge graduate, said four years in the umpiring program provided him valuable work experience and showed him “how the real world operates.” Lee said he was taught how to conduct himself in a business environment after he dropped a game he was scheduled to umpire as the game approached. He said Cregge “let me hear it,” and he was thankful for the experience.
Lee also credits the program for developing him into a leader. He partially ran the program last season.
“The umpire program offered so much to me and I am incredibly grateful that I was a part of it,” Lee said. “From the relationships I made, the lessons I learned, and the experiences I had, the youth umpire program is something I will never forget.”
Though Cregge serves as the Milton Parks and Recreation Director, his umpiring program is not affiliated with the city and operates entirely outside of his job duties.
While his umpires receive pay for their work, Cregge said he is reimbursed in non-monetary ways.
“I have never made a dime doing this, but I get paid by watching young people blossom before my eyes and when umpires from the past contact me on breaks from college and as they enter adulthood to thank me,” Cregge said. “This has truly been a blessing in my life.”
Applications for the 25th year of the program are being taken until July 14. Those interested can contact Cregge at firstname.lastname@example.org.