Known simply as “Colonel Joe” on the baseball diamond, MOAA member Joseph M. Marchino would like to see a few more folks in uniform join him in the officiating ranks.
The 69-year-old retired Air Force colonel knows the qualities veterans possess make them excellent sports officials.
“Servicemembers and veterans, in general, have that temperament, they have the discipline, they have the professionalism,” Marchino said. “They have all these good attributes.”
While numbers have ticked up recently, finding officials remains a challenge. Reasons for the thin talent pool include officials aging out or stepping aside because of COVID-19 concerns, as well as more instances of bad sportsmanship from the sidelines. Whatever the cause, the result is a nationwide shortage of nearly 20,000 officials for high school athletics, said Dana M. Pappas, director of officiating services with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Youth sports associations are feeling a similar pinch across much of the country.
Pappas also serves as a board member of Battlefields to Ballfields (B2B), a nonprofit providing scholarship money for military veterans who want to become sports officials — funds that cover starter costs for training and equipment, as well as three years’ worth of local registration dues.
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More than 900 veterans have been made aware of the Battlefields to Ballfields scholarship thanks to NFHS promotional efforts since last November.
“Through B2B, we have found that officiating provides an opportunity for active and retired servicemen and women to continue to give back to their communities in a special way,” Pappas said.
Like many veterans, Marchino was an athlete growing up. He played nearly every position for his high school baseball team in Vincennes, Ind., before graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1976. He first started to umpire Little League games in 1981 in Oklahoma City while on active duty but stopped after being stationed in Alaska and deployed to South America on counter-drug missions in the early 1990s.
After retiring in 2016 and moving to Kansas City, Mo., to be closer to his children and grandchild, Marchino got the itch to umpire again.
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“At that point, my wife looked at me and said, ‘You've got to find something to do,’ ” Marchino said. “I had given it some thought and decided to get back into sports officiating. I had so much fun doing it before.”
Marchino quickly was assigned to work a high school varsity baseball game in the spring of 2017. His talent and flexible schedule allowed him to move up the ranks in short order; by 2018, Marchino was umpiring small-college baseball and traveling to tournaments hundreds of miles away.
High school baseball and track and field have kept Marchino busy, helping to fill a void left when he retired from the Air Force. This April, he only has two days off from officiating.
“I am still part of a brotherhood of sports officials,” Marchino said. “Since my retirement from active duty, it provided some structure, some organization, and a sense of a purpose. And baseball, in particular, you’ve got to stay in pretty good shape.”