Laid off in New Jersey, turns love of umpiring into a paid gig

It’s a warm summer’s evening at Ely Field in Lambertville, N.J. — picture-perfect for a Little League game. The stands are full, the snack shack is doing a brisk business, and behind home plate, Tom Yannarella, a one time financial planner, is calling the balls and strikes.

At age 54, Yannarella had been an unpaid referee and umpire since he was in his 20s. But it’s just been in the past few years that he decided to get licensed, or “carded,” as it’s called, and get paid for his services.

“Well, I was reorganized out of a job a couple of years ago, so one of the things I’ve been doing the last couple of years is I’ve been substitute teaching. But I also needed to supplement that income as well, so that’s when I decided to do more basketball, softball, baseball officiating. So that’s when I decided to be more serious about that area,” said Yannarella.

While taking classes to get licensed, Yannarella met a number of other people turning a love of youth sports into a paid gig. Many people who officiate, including him, call games year round.

“The reason is the economy,” said Yannarella, “people looking to supplement their income.”

Rider University economics professor Maury Randall studies the labor market and is not surprised.

“People are having a tough time getting jobs,” Randall said, “and even if they can attain a job, very often the pay is not as good as they anticipated because wages have not grown that rapidly. So as a result, either because somebody can’t get a job, or maybe their existing job is not paying so much, they’re looking for additional employment. So you have a lot of competition for those jobs these days.”

Youth sports officials are typically paid around $50 dollars a game, and as Yannarella says, you’re not going to get rich.

“I did meet a guy who said he did 200 baseball games in a year, but if you think about it, 200 games at $50 a pop is $10,000 and that’s a lot of time and travel to get 200 games in a year,” he said.

So even as the job market continues to sputter, for some, youth sports officiating helps the umpires strike back.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.