Clinic to train female umpires a home run for Nova Scotia, official says

A professional umpire is heading to Nova Scotia to teach an entry-level clinic for girls this Sunday, in a province where only three per cent of baseball umpires are female.

Of the 412 umpires in Nova Scotia last year, only 13 were female

Lisa Turbitt says she hopes to empower a new generation of female umpires. (Lisa Turbitt)

Umpire Lisa Turbitt says she grew up at a time when most people believed officiating baseball games wasn't something a girl could do.

Now, crouched behind home base, nothing could seem more natural.

The Burlington, Ont., native, who umpires at international and national events, is heading to Nova Scotia to teach an entry-level clinic for female umpires this Sunday, in a province where only three per cent of the umpires are female.

The 49-year-old told CBC's Information Morning that her forty-year career as an umpire wasn't always easy, but she persevered — and she wants to share some of the lessons learned.

"It would have been an easier road, had I not chosen to do this, but that's not really the person that I am," Turbitt said. "I certainly didn't take no for an answer."

She said she put up with a lot of teasing and bullying on the diamond, and she had to fight to be allowed to umpire in the higher-calibre leagues, even though she was qualified to do so.

There weren't many female role models to help her through the tough times, Turbitt said.

That's starting to change, she said, with two umpires currently umpiring in the minor leagues, although there still aren't any women working regularly in the majors.

Turbitt has umpired at three Women's Baseball World Cups, and served as the umpire director for the 2016 event in South Korea.

Last year, she travelled to Taiwan to act as the umpire director for the World University Baseball Championship, and this summer she will fill that position again at the U-15 Baseball World Cup in Panama.  

Turbitt officiated her first game when she was 11, when there weren't many female role models in the sport. (Lisa Turbitt)

Supervisor of umpires for Baseball Nova Scotia, Blaine Gallant, said more girls are playing baseball in Nova Scotia than ever before, so the time is right to recruit more female umpires.

He said his organization has started a female umpire program to "meet an untapped need." 

That means hosting entry-level clinics for girls and women like this one, Gallant said, inviting professionals like Turbitt to lead them, waiving the registration fee for anybody who wants to participate and ensuring the new recruits get feedback on their progress later in the season.

Of the 412 umpires registered in Nova Scotia last year, he said, only 13 were female — and they were all from the Halifax-area. 

As of Wednesday, Gallant said, 17 people had pre-registered for the female umpire clinic, with three hailing from outside the city. That's a good sign, he said, and it speaks to the need. 

Turbitt says she had to fight to be allowed to officiate high-level games. (Lisa Turbitt)

Hockey was in a similar place a few years ago, Gallant said, when more girls were starting to play but there weren't enough female officials to staff the games. Now all the referees at the Ice Hockey Women's World Championships are female, he said. 

"That's where we would like to get" in baseball, Gallant said, especially given that the 16U Girls Invitational Championships will be hosted in Bedford, N.S., this year and next. 

There are a couple of female umpires already lined up to officiate this year's event, he said, and the hope is to have even more in the ranks for 2019.

The entry-level umpire clinic for women is taking place at the Bicentennial School in Dartmouth, N.S., on Sunday, April 29, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

One of Canada's top umpires says more women should be doing the job. She's giving a clinic for girls this weekend in Dartmouth. 7:50

About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from the CBC's Information Morning.