Rick Roder
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Human Interest - Larry Young



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    This is a human-interest piece I wrote for the World Umpires Association (Major League umpires' union) website. You should be able to find a stable of my writings on the "Articles" page of their site at http://www.worldumpires.com/articles.html.

    Larry Young: Officiating in the Game of Life
    by Rick Roder

    The love of officiating has taken people to many places they thought they would never see, and into situations they thought they would never find themselves. For Major League umpire Larry Young, the adventure began early.

    Larry was a sixteen-year-old high school student at Oregon High School in Oregon, Illinois, in 1970; he had taken an interest in refereeing basketball games. One day the father of the girl he was dating picked him up without warning and drove him to an area gymnasium. When Larry entered the gym, he was surprised to see two teams of physically- and mentally-challenged kids getting ready for a basketball game. Larry had no idea what to expect - he noticed right away that there were not even any markings on the court.

    "What I discovered that day," said Larry, "was the most gratifying officiating that there is in the world. You are paid with smiles and hugs."

    The game was a part of the Special Olympics program, which was in its infancy. Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Chicago Parks District started the Special Olympics just two years before, in 1968, in nearby Chicago. In his thirty-two year relationship with the organization, Larry has watched Special Olympics grow beyond Illinois to become an international organization, recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1988.

    Larry was no stranger to handicapped kids. When he was six years old he welcomed home a new little sister, Karen, who was born with cerebral palsy. As Karen grew up she was very shy, quiet, and reserved-and of course protected by her family. Larry watched with interest and fascination as Karen's participation in Special Olympics programs brought her out of her shell, revealing a personality and resolve she had withheld before. Karen especially enjoyed basketball, bowling, and track. The big brother, famous to a degree as a Major League umpire, stands in awe of his little sister's progress. Karen entered special education programs at the age of six. She is now a high school graduate and works regularly in the Village of Progress, an adult workshop that provides a variety of jobs. Karen mainly helps in the kitchen. She lives at home with her mother, Della.

    Larry Young's love of working with the less fortunate has grown into a lifetime passion. He and his wife of twenty-six years, Joan, helped propel the Village of Progress from its beginning stages into the thriving community of today. In a related move they started "Larry Young and Friends Charities." The group is a thoughtful collection of people from the business and sporting worlds - including officials and coaches - who come together for the sole purpose of charitable work. Larry notes that the composition of the group is key, "We have basketball people who can pick up the slack when I am busy during the baseball season, and I pick them up when they are busy during the winter." Joan Young works as a clearinghouse for the many ideas and details as her husband travels to thirty Major League parks during the season.

    True to Larry Young's dedication to Special Olympics, his group works every year with that worthy cause. However, Larry also calls upon the board members of the organization to search their hearts and employ their creativity. "Every year, one of the eight board members names a charitable cause, and about half our efforts in that year go to that charity." Thus the team has assisted in many and varied endeavors, such as educational scholarships for the young, Hospice, advocacy groups against domestic violence, the American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association.

    Larry dedicates his All-Star break - a coveted time of rest and celebration for professional umpires - to a charitable golf tournament. The Village of Progress helps with the many administrative tasks associated with the event, which has enabled Larry and Joan to make it a yearly event. Another major yearly effort hosted by the organization is a silent auction. The auction is held in a local bank in conjunction with a televised sporting event, usually the Major League playoffs.

    While the true measure of the good works of Larry Young can only be found with those he has helped, there has been no shortage of public recognition. In 1994 he was named the Volunteer of the Year by Special Olympics of Illinois, and received his award at Illinois State University in Bloomington. He has received two other awards directly related to his work with Special Olympics; The JC Penney Golden Rule Award, which he received in Rockford, and the Goodwill Abilities Center Distinguished Service Award. In 1989 in St. Petersburg, Larry was the Florida Diamond Club's Umpire of the Year. The Diamond Club recognizes outstanding people from the professional baseball world (major and minor league); umpires, executives, players, and other personnel. Larry recalled that the late Barney Deary presented the award. Deary, a man well known to many umpires, was the first and longtime administrator of the minor league Umpire Development Program.

    Recently Larry Young was named as the 2002 recipient of the Golden Whistle Award, given by the National Association of Sports Officials. NASO presents its annual award to recognize the community involvement, integrity, and ethics of successful sports officials.

    Larry and Joan are the parents of Jessica, eighteen and a senior in high school, and Darcy, fourteen. Both are active athletes. Jessica will attend Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, next fall, where she will play soccer. Larry recently received an assignment switch with Major League umpire Jerry Crawford so he could be in Minneapolis to watch Darcy play in a volleyball tournament.

    Larry Young has attained astounding professional success that helps facilitate his generosity of time, talent and treasure. He has over seventeen years of experience as a big league umpire, and is a Crew Chief. He has worked four Division Series, two League Championship series, the 1991 All-Star Game, and the 1996 World Series. Yet the amazing things about him involve his will. Despite the fact that Larry fights his bad knees daily, his umpiring somehow does not suffer. No doubt he would say that other people have tougher obstacles to overcome.

    One of Larry's self-selected duties is to find and assign officials for Special Olympics of Illinois. He said, "It never fails. I call a new guy to see if he'll officiate for a great cause. The guy will say, 'Yeah, yeah, I guess so.' Then after the games I'll get a call from the same guy, saying, 'Hey, that was greatest thing ever! I loved it!'"

    For Larry Young, it all goes back to that day as a teenager when he experienced the love and sincerity of some special kids on a basketball court - a court with no boundaries.

    Copyright © 2002, Richard J. Roder. All rights reserved.


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