Colorado nonprofit certifies local Alaskan veterans as umpires

The program is designed to bridge the love for the game with those who have served
The program is designed to bridge the love for the game with those who have served
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 7:56 PM AKDT
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CHUGIAK, Alaska (KTUU) - Back in early August the Great Alaska Showcase brought the youth softball community to the Loretta French Sports Complex in Chugiak. At the event, 24 college coaches worked with 165 athletes aged 10-18, offering tips and techniques for playing softball.

But the players weren’t the only ones getting trained. Protect the Game, a Colorado-based nonprofit that operates under the umbrella of Triple Crown Sports, was coaching a group of nine local veterans in the world of umping. The founder of the organization, Patty Harsch, was there every step of the way.

“We actually train, certify, and equip — at no cost — military veterans and their families to become youth sports officials,” Harsch said.

The free program not only certifies veterans in sports officiating, but it also addresses a shortage being experienced in the industry largely due to unruly parents and fans. Kevin Parron, an Air Force veteran who participated in the program this year, admitted he’s been upset with officials before.

“I’ve been on the other side, where you’re a coach or you’re a parent and you’re upset with the umpire, so I can empathize with that,” Perron said. “At the same time, this gives me a new perspective.”

Harsch came up with the idea after her brother, Marine Corp veteran Daniel Lewis Harsch, suffered a stroke. Harsch flew from Colorado to Kansas for three weeks to be with her brother in the hospital. Daniel was active in VFW and American Legion organizations at the time and his fellow service members went to Kansas Medical Center to help Harsch with various things.

“I never really understood and appreciated, when there was a need, who might show up,” Harsch admitted. “On the flight home, I made this conscious decision (that) I want to do something in honor of my brother, and his brethren, and veterans, and I have a position at Triple Crown Sports where I can help.”

Harsch figured veterans would be a good fit for sports officiating because of their military training.

“As far as being able to handle a tough situation, conflict resolution, manage a game, be proud of wearing a uniform, be on time, say things with authority,” Harsch said. “It just seemed to really match as far as a military person and how umpires work.”

Protect the Game became a 501(c)(3) in 2019. Since its establishment, the organization has certified around 80 veterans and their family members. The nine Alaskans that were certified in Chugiak this year were trained as umpires for softball and baseball. The certification gives veterans the opportunity to work as little or as much as they want during sports seasons, and the nonprofit connects those individuals with industry assignors in their area that hire them for youth games.

Michael Quinn, who participated in the certification training as a family member of veterans, has seen first-hand what organizations such as Protect the Game can do for service members in the community.

“I am not sure that there’s enough done for them,” Quinn said. “Overall, they gave to us for their service. This is just one more step.”

The two-day course consisted of classroom activities as well as hands-on experience during the softball camp. At the end of the training program, Harsch choked back tears as she congratulated each participant on behalf of the organization and in honor of her late brother. The group of nine was the largest the nonprofit has trained to date at one event.

Harsch said she is planning on coming back to Alaska to host the certification training again, working with those who have protected the country to protect the love for the game.