Sally Walker named to Umpire Hall of Fame
Athletic Director Sally Walker makes a call during a game between UCLA (at bat) and Northwestern in the 2006 Women's Collegiate World Series. Walker, who now umpires primarily at the collegiate level, will be inducted into the Illinois Coaches Association's Umpire Hall of Fame for her work in high school softball. NCAA photo
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2007 - 4:32pm
THE ILLINOIS COACHES ASSOCIATION has selected Sally Walker for the ICA Umpire Hall of Fame in recognition of her work as a high school girls softball umpire.
The Uni athletic director will be honored at the organization's banquet on Feb. 16 in Morton. She was one of five umpires from around the state chosen for the 2008 award.
When the new group is inducted, the Umpire Hall of Fame — which is dedicated to girls softball — will have 27 members. The first member was selected in 2003.
Walker said she was shocked when she first heard the news, particularly because her current work as an umpire focuses on NCAA women’s collegiate softball.
“It came as a surprise to me, and it’s an amazing honor,” she said of the award. “It was completely unexpected, though, because the last high school game I was an umpire for was five years ago.”
Walker was not even aware that such a hall of fame existed but was deeply touched when she found out who put her name up for consideration.
“Randy Wolken, the girls softball coach at St. Joseph-Ogden, was the guy who nominated me," explained Walker. "At the time when I was umpiring high school games, the St. Joe game was the big game. He hired me as an umpire and [his team] challenged me by playing good softball.”
Walker's performance as an umpire led the IHSA to choose her to work state championship games for five straight years. She umpired the Class A title games in 1994 and 1995, then moved to Class AA from 1996 to 1998.
At the collegiate level, Walker has also impressed officials. In 2006, for example, the NCAA selected her to umpire the NCAA Collegiate Women's World Series. Later that year, the Gargoyle published a story about Walker's experiences as a college umpire. For those who missed that article, we are republishing it below.
MORE ABOUT SALLY WALKER
SALLY IN CHARGE
Meet Sally Walker, one of the top umpires in women's collegiate softball
Story by Shivani Khanna
Originally published Friday, Sept. 22, 2006
WHILE MOST UNI kids were productively enjoying their first week of summer freedom sleeping 17 hours a day and tanning at the pool the other seven, Athletic Director Sally Walker was busy getting airtime on ESPN in Oklahoma City. Beginning June 1 and continuing through the rest of that week, Walker was an umpire at the 2006 Women’s Collegiate World Series. For softball umpires, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.
Like everyone else, Walker had to work her way to the top. In an interview with the Gargoyle, she explained how she entered the world of softball umpiring.
“My dad was a pro softball player, and I played it my entire childhood, played it in high school and played college softball [at West Virginia University], but I’d never thought of umpiring,” Walker said. “I did it one summer when some gal needed help, and I’ve slowly worked my way up from umpiring the younger kids to the World Series.”
Walker has been umpiring collegiate softball since 1995, and she has done the NCAA regionals and super regionals since 1998. She has also been an umpire at the 2002 and 2003 World Series. In the regular season, she has done games in the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Missouri Valley Conference, and the Southeastern Conference.
Each conference has an umpire coordinator who nominates officials to work during playoffs. This year a committee of three people chose Walker to umpire the World Series because of the extensive work that she had done in the past. Walker was one of 24 umpires at super regionals and one of six umpires at the World Series.
Every year Walker must balance this pastime with her duties to Uni High’s teams. Beginning in the first weekend of February, Walker is gone every weekend until the World Series, so the last four months of the school year are quite hectic for her.
In the World Series, eight teams play each other for the first five games. They are then whittled down to only two teams who play each other, best out of three games, for the championship. Walker was home plate umpire in the first game of the championship, which meant that she was in charge of the entire field.
It was during this game, between Northwestern and UCLA, that she got a lot of recognition from ESPN.
“There was one incident that ended up getting a lot of publicity on the Jumbotrons, but it looked worse than it was,” Walker said. “The UCLA coach and I were shown on TV quite a bit because it was a close game and I was the home plate umpire. The batter comes up, and she turns her elbow a bit so that the ball hit her, so I called it out. And the UCLA coach is really hyper and talks a lot, so she was yapping away asking if I could go double check it and ask one of the other referees.
“So I meet with the other two refs and tell them this is what I have,” Walker continued, “but if you have something different I will gladly change the call — if you think the batter was frozen or something and couldn’t get out of the way with a 67 mph softball coming at her, then tell me. But they agreed with me, so I didn’t change the call, and the coach was good and let it be.”
However, things don’t always work out so smoothly. Walker confessed: “This World Series was the most difficult of the three I’d worked in terms of calls. There were big-time screw-ups, and you’re always going to have one coach or one team that’s upset about a call.”
She related an incident where the coaches were furious about a badly made call.
“In a Northwestern-Alabama game, Alabama’s left fielder dove to make a great catch, and the home plate umpire called ‘safe,’ ” Walker said. “I didn’t see him make the call, but he came up to me afterward and asked, ‘Was it safe?’ and I responded, ‘No,’ and he just had this look on his face and he said, ‘I called it safe,’ and I just looked at him. It was his first time being an umpire at the World Series. … But knowing both coaches really helps, and in this case I was really close with both of them, so I was able to work it out.”
In general, Walker has been confident about the calls she has made, but she said, “This was the only time at the World Series that I made a call that I regretted afterward.”
She blames it on the pain killers she took for tendinitis of the Achilles.
“Right before the game they gave me a shot with a drug for pain because of my injury,” she said. “I told them that I would deal with the pain if it meant that I still had control of my mental facilities, but they said they give this to gymnasts who then go perform on the balance beam. So I figured if they [gymnasts] could do that then they were obviously clear in the head. But I still blame this on the drugs. A ball was pitched and it hit the outside of the catcher’s glove, and just as I was turning to make the call I did the arm signal for a foul ball, and I was thinking, ‘Why in the world am I calling it a foul?’ ”
Like the World Cup for soccer, collegiate softball does not use video replays to judge calls. However, Walker had an interesting experience with a replay this year nonetheless.
“This girl was going for a triple during the Arizona- Northwestern game, and she goes down and slides into the third baseman and rams into the side of her leg,” Walker recalled. “There was a huge crash, and apparently the third baseman slapped the runner back with her glove. I didn’t see this but the other refs had, and the girl gets up with this huge gash on her forehead with blood running down. It had obviously been from the initial impact, though, and not from the slap back, but fans were angry and calling for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I was in the locker room afterward, and the two NCAA officials came up to me and asked me about it, and I told them I hadn’t seen it, and they asked if I wanted to,” she continued. “So we went into the ESPN trailer, and there were so many monitors there recording from every angle, and we got to the very back and watched it on 24 different monitors in super slow motion, and I see it from different angles. It was pretty cool.”
For Walker, umpiring is a pastime she enjoys, and she plans to stick with it. Despite the occasional confrontations, Walker describes the experience of umpiring an NCAA postseason as exhilarating.
“It’s all very intense, the whole month of May,” she said. “Every weekend: Big Ten tournament, then regionals, and then super regionals. The thing I like most about it is that it’s very challenging, but challenging in a good way.”