In rarity for female, Johndro has umpired youth baseball 25 yearsShe plans to continue until her 'knees give in'
Knox — The start of Debbie Johndro's career as an umpire was marred with controversy.
The 55-year-old Knox resident began umpiring Little League baseball games in the mid-1980s. Mostly because there was a shortage of umpires and the league needed volunteers, but also for her love of the game and the children.
However, it was one of her own children that received the brunt of one of her early calls.
Umpiring behind the plate in a game her son, Justin, was playing in her first few years on the field, Justin came up to bat for Mount View and was sent back to the dugout after he was rung up by his mother on a called strike three.
Making matters more interesting, Patrick's father and Debbie's husband, Kevin, was the manager of the Mount View team at the time.
Talk about awkward.
“He must have been about nine [years old],” said Johndro of her youngest son. “He got up to the plate and he had two strikes on him. And I called strike three and he thought it was a ball. He got very upset with me. So he stomped off, his father came out and dragged him back into the dugout.
“He has never forgot that. He brings that up to me more times than not.”
It was ultimately only a minor blip in what has proven to be a happy umpiring career for Johndro.
Then Debbie Webster, Johndro was a 1978 graduate of Searsport District High School and was a three-sport athlete for the Vikings, playing field hockey, basketball and baseball.
Classes were not required when she became an umpire, though she eventually earned her certification in the mid-1990s once she made the decision that she wanted to work at the higher levels. She then began to climb the ladder, umpiring high school and middle school softball, along with high school and Babe Ruth baseball games.
In a profession dominated by men, Johndro has bucked the trend and been one of the few women umpires in the state for more than two decades.
Johndro said she only ran into one other female umpire during that time, which she ran into during her stint doing high school games.
“I've never seen a female Little League umpire,” she said. “Other than me.”
Despite her being of the fairer sex, Johndro gets no breaks when it comes to unruly fans. But she takes it in stride.
“Being the bad guy, you get over it after a few years,” she said. “You take a beating. After a while, you block it out. I don't even hear anybody on the sidelines. I don't pay any attention them [fans]."
Eventually, Johndro made her way back to the Little League ranks “around 2000 or so,” where she still umpires for both Waldo County Little League and the Cal Ripken League in Belfast.
“I enjoy doing the lower levels,” she said. “I'd rather do something that has more meaning to me. The lower levels, they don't get the attention the higher levels get.”
Umpiring now runs in the Johndro family as Debbie's husband, Kevin, and son, Patrick, both volunteer as well.
Johndro said the travel required to work high school games was one of the determining factors in her decision not to continue with that, along with her overall preference to umpire at the youth levels.
Johndro, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, said “nobody wants to volunteer” to umpire Little League games, which is why she began umpiring in the mid-1980s and why she continues to do so today.
“I have threatened to retire for the last five years, but I'm still here going at it,” she said. “At the end of the season I say, 'OK I'm not going to do it next year.' Then the next year rolls around and they call me and say, 'We don't have enough umpires can you come down and do a few games?' And I say yes. I just can't say no. I enjoy it and I like the kids.”
As for next year?
“I'll probably be out there,” she said. “No doubt. I'll probably be out there doing it until my knees give in.”
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Mark has been covering local sports throughout Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln county since 2007. Haskell has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from the University of Maine and is also a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School. He has won multiple Maine Press Association awards for writing and photography.
Mark loves the Boston Red Sox, iced coffee, cargo shorts and time with friends and family.
He resides in Thomaston with his wife Jenn, his sons Beckett and Austin and daughter Lila.
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