Respect My Authority

“Some people are exceptional musicians. I don’t have an ear at all for music. Others are born great artists, I can’t draw a straight line. I was given the gift to be an umpire.”

In a quest to work every job that requires the least amount of work I have been training to be a tennis umpire. One of the steps to be qualified for this vocation is to shadow trained umpires at a tournament for five days. And so I learned from the speaker of the above quote who informed me he won rookie of the year for umpires at the US Open in 1971. He did not look old enough to be an umpire forty years ago. I told him such and so he told me he was sixteen years old then.

“And they respected your calls being so young?”

“I had to earn their respect.”

He taught me the ins and the outs of the trade. “Watch the returner to see if they’re ready for the serve, then look at the feet of the server to make sure they don’t footfault. Then don’t you dare follow the ball. It’ll move too fast for you to see whether the serve lands in or out. Focus your eyes directly on the service box to see where the ball hits.”

I am starting at the lowest level. I would not be sitting in an elevated chair, rather I would be roaming on several courts basically mediating any disputes. This was a tournament of fourteen year old girls. There was no money involved, but still things would get testy on the courts. The biggest issue involved the rule that players are not allowed to receive coaching during the match, yet coaches still tend to shout things at their players.

One Russian man (the Russians seem to dominate the junior tennis circuit) was yelling things in Russian to his pupil. So during a changeover I calmly walked over to him and told him, “Sir, I don’t understand Russian, so you might or might not be saying illegal things to your player. In the spirit of fair competition you’re going to have to stop yelling things in Russian to her.”


A couple games later he yells a long Russian sentence to her. I gave him a school teacher scolding of , “Sir!!!!”. He apologized. But during the next changeover, his player was filling her cup with water and in a ridiculously ineffective stage whisper he was telling her more Russian wisdom.

I stormed out of the fence and said, “Sir, you’re going to have to leave.”

“Ok. Ok.”

“You say OK, but you’re not going anywhere.” It was then that I noticed a glass bottle with a paper bag around it sitting at his feet. “If you don’t leave immediately I’m going to start penalizing your player points.”

He stood up then, but left his cell phone. “Take your cell phone.” I told him.

“No leave it, leave it.”

“I don’t want it getting stolen while you’re completely out of this area.” He grabbed the phone, his mysterious bottle, and winked good-bye.


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