Getting the calling right

Adam Hale
Adam Hale in his office at Glendale Christian Church.

Glendale minister influences many through officiating.

By John Herndon,

GLENDALE, Ky. — As much as Adam Hale wants to get every call right, it’s more important that he gets his calling right.

And make no mistake about Hale. He’s a baseball and basketball official who wants to get every call right.

Every. Single. One.

He’s good. At the high school level, his umpiring and refereeing skills have earned him multiple postseason assignments. And last month, he was selected by Little League International to call the Midwest and Great Lakes regional tournaments in Indianapolis.

He’s grateful. And deserving. But as we sat in his office last week, he doesn’t want to be defined by the face mask or the striped shirt. “I want people to know me as Adam the minister or Adam the Christian instead of Adam the referee,” he said with a smile.

Yes, a minister. Yes, one that stands behind a pulpit and preaches about a biblical topic. Hale, 35, has been serving as senior minister at Glendale Christian Church for almost two years. He’s able to juggle responsibilities but, as was the case in Indianapolis, his work as a minister always comes first. “I called 9-10 games in the regional tournaments, but I had to come back for a funeral,” he said.

ESPN got a closeup of Adam Hale as he called a Little League game between the champions of Illinois and Michigan in Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy Susan Haddix.)

He returned to Indy to complete the week and was evaluated for consideration to call a future Little League World Series.

The Indianapolis assignment was the latest mile in a long journey that began almost by accident over 20 years ago in Hale’s hometown.

“I was in high school when I started,” he remembers. “I was playing high school baseball and got hurt. I was just hanging out at the ballpark in Springfield. One of the umpires for a Little League game didn’t show up one night. So, the park director, Bernard Smalley, asked me if I would call the bases for a game, so I did. A couple of nights later, the same guy didn’t show up again, so Bernard asked me again. After that, he said, ‘You do a pretty good job. Why don’t you just come on and be one of our regular umpires.”

He was hooked. He obtained his license to call games at the high school level soon after his own graduation and he’s been going strong ever since.

While many officials are just like players in aspiring to work at the college level, Hale says that’s not in his immediate future. “At one time, I did, but I am at the point now in my officiating career and with the ministry, I don’t have the time to devote to it. I am very content with where I am now.

“The closest colleges (to Glendale) are Campbellsville and Lindsey Wilson and they are an hour away. Some of the officials I know drive three or four hours for the games, then two or three hours later it’s three or four hours back. That’s a lot of time on the road away from my family.”

About the same time Hale was beginning to get work as an official, he answered the call to ministry with an internship the summer before his senior year of high school. He enrolled at Louisville Bible College, where he met his wife, Kristy, and prepared for ministry. The couple has two children.

The Glendale church is thriving. In fact, Hale recently posted on Facebook that the church had grown with 10 baptisms since June 30.

He’s learned and continues to do so in both professions..

“It’s quick to find out when you start officiating that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you know. There are a lot of intricacies and situations,” he says. “Those things, if you don’t stay up to date — most fans don’t have access to the rule book so they may not realize some of those rules have changed.

“We get yelled at, ‘That is not what you are supposed to do,’ but the rule might have changed in the last year.”

And the games change and evolve with points of emphasis often prompting fans to think an official is incorrect. Hale says a perfect example has been how high school rules have protected the ball handler more in the last few years, making the slightest contact a foul but when the ball goes near the basket, it is still physical.

ESPN showed umpire Adam Hale talking with a coach during the Illinois-Michigan game in the Little League regional tournament in Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy Susan Haddix.)

And, Hale admits, there are times when officials are human and don’t get the call right. “Every official is going to miss calls,” he says. “At the Little League regional (which was broadcast on ESPN), it was the first time I had used the replay. I went 1-for-3 on replays.”

He chuckled.

“The first one on replay was a close play, but it was a really bad feeling knowing that I had blown one, but ultimately we like to get the play right.”

He pauses, then laughs, “It has been said that umpiring and officiating is the only job you are supposed to show up the first day and be perfect and then get better.”

In the sports climate today, it seems that things can get dicey quicker than ever before. “People’s emotions when it comes to sports, seem to go wild,” Hale says. “This last season, I was working a game behind the plate between two district rivals. (Hale did not name the teams playing.)

“A pitcher hit a couple of batters but I never felt it was intentional. But there was some chirping going on between the dugouts. The next thing you know, the fans in the stands are chirping at each other. At that point, my concern is what is going on in the field. The game administrators and manager can take care of what is going on in the stands, but that carries over. The kids look into the stands and see the adults acting that way and they will mimic what they see.

“About the sixth inning, I brought both managers to the plate. I said, ‘Guys, get your teams under control or we will start ejecting people. You both have a lot more games this week and are going to need everybody.’ Both coaches were good about it and took care of things.”

Like all officials, and ministers, Hale says learning how to take criticism was difficult. “It’s tough not to take it personal,” he says. “In ministry there are ways to deal with criticism. You have to consider the source, but also ask if it was a legitimate criticism. That’s kind of the approach I take in officiating.”

And that attitude allows Hale to influence others through sports. When working a game behind the plate, he shows interest in the catcher, asking his name and grade in school. He’s learned that just being a person of integrity and character goes a long way in relations with those playing the games he’s officiating.

“The biggest influence is with other officials,” he says. “We spend a lot of time together during the season and there is a bond or fraternity of sorts. They all know what I do for a living and that I am a minister first and an official second. When we have functions and they want someone to pray, I am the one they call on. It’s about building relationships and if there is something going on in their life, I’m an outlet for them.”

And, he says, calling games provides great opportunities to show the grace God shows us.

“When I first started officiating, I was pretty quick to T a coach up or something like that. I took everything personal,” Hale admits and says a game he called with his paternal grandfather in the stands taught a tough lesson.

“There were a couple of plays that led up to an altercation between the coach and I,” he says. “We put on a show for everybody. He was yelling at me and I was yelling back at him. I gave him a technical. I don’t think he got ejected that night, but there was a lot of emotion involved.

‘After the game, I asked my grandfather what he thought about the game and what he thought about that series of plays.  He said, ‘We’ll talk about it later,’ which was an indication to me that he wasn’t pleased with how I handled that.

Adam Hale had just started officiating when this photo was taken. (Photo courtesy Susan Haddix.)

“A couple of days later I was over at his house, and whenever we had a serious conversation, we sat at the kitchen table. No matter where we were in the house, if we were sitting on the couch, if we had a serious conversation, we got up and went to the kitchen table. I said something about the game and he said, let’s go to the table and we’ll talk about it.

“He told me, and I have never forgotten it, ‘You are getting into the ministry and the grace of Jesus is more important than any basketball game. You didn’t show a lot of grace that night. In fact, it would have been a great opportunity for you to. In that altercation with the coach, you were far from it.  A lot of people at the game knew you want to be a minister, so if you are going to continue refereeing, you are going to have to learn to be a lot more gracious and show the grace of Jesus a lot more than you did that night. I have never forgotten that.

“I was 22 or 23. I was getting a lot of big ball games by that time. It was at the end of the season and I was getting ready to work my first district tournament. My chest was pumped out a lot more than it should have been.  But the point he made was my Christian character was a lot more important than my reputation as an official.”

It’s all about the calling, not the call.

One thought on “Getting the calling right

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