St. Charles resident Mushrush honored by IHSA as an official of year
Bill Mushrush started umpiring baseball because the sport, initially, didn't want him. Kicked him to the curb.
"I got cut from the high school baseball team because of lack of talent," the St. Charles resident told me recently. "But I didn't want to give up on baseball. I wanted to stay connected to the game somehow."
So he started umpiring in his native Ohio. His first payoff?
"Eight dollars a game when I first started in the early 1970s," he said with a laugh.
Forty years later, Mushrush still is going strong as a decorated high school baseball umpire who has worked three IHSA state finals, including the 1993 1994 and 2003 versions (he worked two Class A finals in Springfield at Lanphier Park and one at then Phillip B. Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva).
Mushrush's long-term efforts have not gone unnoticed. He's one of three Fox Valley-area officials who recently was named official of the year by the IHSA. Mushrush won the award in baseball, while Geneva resident Margaret Carlson won for girls lacrosse and Sugar Grove resident Nate Kessen for wrestling.
The trio along with 19 others will be honored on July 20 at a banquet during the 2019 IHSA officials conference at Embassy Suites in East Peoria. To be considered for the honor, an official must first be nominated by an IHSA-sanctioned officials' association. IHSA staffers then vote on the winners based on factors such as character, skill as an official and levels worked in the IHSA state series.
Mushrush's foray into Illinois high school baseball umpiring started right after he graduated from Miami University (Ohio).
"The week after I graduated someone I knew told me to call the guy doing the assigning (through the south-suburban arm of Umpires Metropolitan Services or UMPS as it is still commonly referred to today)," he recalled. "I went to the Naperville Park District field and had no idea where I was going. The next night I was in Oak Lawn and the next night I was in Addison. It was a fast way to learn the territory and find my around a big city."
The 61-year-old Mushrush said his four-decade journey as a baseball umpire has two drivers behind it.
"I love being around baseball and kids," said Mushrush, who retired in 2013 as a teacher and administrator in Glenbard District 87 where he most recently was an assistant principal at Glenbard East.
"I hear a lot of umpires say that we don't do it for money, but for the love of the game. There is something to that as corny as it might sound. There also is a challenge to it, which I enjoy. Umpiring helped me develop as a young person. It puts you in situations where you have to learn to handle yourself and make quick judgments. You have to handle yourself when maybe others are losing their composure and you have to maintain yours. Every day I want to go out and do the best job I can and respect the game."
Mushrush added his long tenure in the sport has an unintended consequence to it -- one that's currently being felt in officiating realms throughout the country.
"We are all getting older," he said. "Every clinic I go to and every association meeting -- I have been the president of Athletic Official's Association's baseball division -- everybody is 45 to 50 years or older. I don't have that many young partners anymore.
"I've gone to the NASO convention and the ISHA officials conference in July and it's happening all over the country. All the statistics and studies have been done. The money (officials get paid) hasn't kept up with inflation and what else is going on with the economy. I think that definitely factors into it. And there might be a different generational outlook where people you have no relationship with are going off on you and screaming, and these newer officials say, 'I don't need this.'"
Mushrush added baseball umpiring requires an upfront dip in the red ink.
"To get the average guy started with equipment and uniform is a couple-hundred dollars. Compared to other sports, it does take an investment to get started," he pointed out.
Mushrush lauds longtime Fox Valley Blues umpire group leader Jeff Collis (who this writer officiated many a game for in what now seems like another lifetime, as well as UMPS) for starting a garage-sale program several years ago where umpires donate old equipment that newer officials can then purchase at affordable prices.
"At their clinic in March everybody brings in their old equipment and then Jeff sets up a garage sale," he explained. "New guys can come in there and get a chest protector, a mask and a pair of pants for next to nothing. It's one thing to help get a young kid interested and it helps them be able to do youth baseball in the summer and make some money. What's he's doing is very important."
Baseball isn't Mushrush's only arbitrating side gig. He started officiating basketball five years ago.
"When I retired from Glenbard I needed a new challenge," he said. "I told my wife I was going to try officiating basketball and she thought that was a great idea -- that I needed something to stay busy and stay active. It's been a nice challenge for someone who has achieved everything they wanted to achieve in baseball. Now, I'm the relatively new guy in basketball. It got me focused back on game management, something that comes naturally on the baseball field. You have to be much more deliberate on the basketball court, but a lot of the same stuff from baseball transfers over."
Mushrush, who now runs his father-in-law's manufacturing business in La Grange, is looking forward to the awards ceremony in July.
"The award is a big surprise," he said. "Let's face it, I'm in the twilight of my umpiring and officiating career. I was really caught off guard by it. It's very much appreciated. I'm also getting my 40-year award there. Now I have two reasons to be there. It's a nice shot in the arm for a longtime baseball guy."
Make that a well-deserved shot in the arm.
Mike Miazga has been writing about sports in the Fox Valley area for more than a quarter century. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.