Dubois resident named top ump in his ‘new’ sport

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

Michael Zehr might make it sound like he’s a greenhorn on the baseball diamond. Saturday, though, he was presented evidence of the contrary.

Zehr, a Dubois resident and fixture on the local officiating circuit, was recognized at Saturday’s prep baseball state finals with the Interscholastic Athletic Official Association Award for baseball. The IHSAA recognizes one official statewide each year in 11 different sports, and Zehr is the second local official to be honored in the last month as Santa Claus resident Dennis Forler recently picked up the same award in track.

Zehr

Zehr didn’t see the kudos coming, partly because he considers himself inexperienced when it comes to baseball. That’s all relative, though, for someone who just wrapped up his 21st season of umpiring as Zehr has logged more than 90 seasons’ worth of experience overall while also calling volleyball and basketball.

“We’ve got some baseball officials in the state that have been doing baseball a lot longer than I have. I’m still learning the game. It’s just very rewarding for me to know that people think enough of me to vote for me or to give me that award,” said Zehr, who’s officiated 19 sectionals, 17 regionals, five semistates and three state finals in baseball alone.

“I just don’t know if I feel that I’m that deserving of it, but I’m definitely honored to get it, and I’m going to take it, that’s for sure,” he added with a chuckle.

Zehr also serves as a rules interpreter and has been active with the Southwestern Indiana Officials Association’s hospitality awards and scholarship program, which provides scholarships of $500 to local student-athletes exemplifying sportsmanship.

A 1972 Dubois High School graduate, Zehr can attest to the notion that any given baseball game can showcase something you’ve never seen before. It even happened during a regional game Zehr was calling earlier this month as the home-plate umpire gave him a lesson in patience. In the seventh inning of the Class 2A regional championship, a baserunner from Austin rounded third and churned toward the Evansville Mater Dei catcher in a potential game-deciding sequence. The Austin runner slid wide around home and missed swiping the plate with his hand. But the Mater Dei catcher didn’t apply the tag, either.

The home-plate ump, Hugh Gardner, coolly removed his mask, looked at home plate and waited for one of the two players to make a move — even as chaos and screaming starting to circulate around Gardner when he held off on making a call.

“Finally the catcher tagged him and (Gardner) gave the ‘out’ signal,” Zehr recalled. “I just thought, ‘Wow.’ To have that patience ... he just stood there and he waited for something to happen. It was awesome.”

To go along with a keen eye, Zehr has found there’s another requisite for his line of work: “You’ve got to have a very understanding spouse,” he said.

His wife, Marian, obliges, as the Zehrs will eat dinner at 4 or 4:30 p.m. before he has to scoot out to a baseball game, which can keep him out as late as 10 or 10:30 p.m. with drive time factored in. While Michael’s away, Marian immerses herself in her quilting hobby, and she’s even provided quilts for churches in Huntingburg and Ireland to use for their annual picnics.

“It’s almost like it’s a job for her instead of a little pastime,” said Michael, who has two adult children: Alex, 32, and Audra, 30.

Michael will be launching his 34th year officiating volleyball this fall and his 40th year of basketball in the winter — and he deals in the future tense when saying that, since the realm of prep sports remains a passion after he retired a years ago from Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance.

The little moments keep him going. Such as a few months ago, when a man stopped Zehr in the grocery store. Zehr had been his Pony League coach years earlier, and the man expressed to Zehr that he was one of the best coaches he’d ever had.

“I just love being out there with kids,” Zehr said.

“To be able to have somebody come up to me years later and say ‘Hey, I remember you,’ I think that is a real positive from what I do. I love it. I just love doing it. I’d do it every night if I could.”

Contact Brendan Perkins




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