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Veteran umpire thinks it may be time to retire

Career began in 1966
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Umpire Vern Schick talks softball with members of the Rhein Rockets.
RHEIN - Vern Schick has been calling balls and strikes for decades, umpiring hundreds of softball and baseball games. 

He estimates more than 3,000 games, and yet with some irony what might well be the final game of his career turned out to be no game at all. 

Schick was behind the plate Aug. 9, in Rhein calling the Richardson Pioneer Fastball League finals game between the host Rockets and visiting Neudorf Posse. It was in the bottom of the fifth, the home side down a run with a runner on second when a rare for the summer of 2021 rain hit.  

Schick first called a rain delay and huddled in the dugout with players, but when it became apparent the pitching circle was muddy, the rain was still falling, and darkness would fall all too soon, Schick called the game. It would go as a non-game, and for the veteran umpire who has been considering retirement his last walk to his car was a wet and unheralded one. 

Well, so he had thought. He would be called into action for the league final in Neudorf two-nights later, where the Rockets would win their second straight title, a game more fitting as perhaps the end of a long career for Schick.

Of course Schick might yet decide to stay umping, once the calls start next summer for his skills. He has changed him mind before, noting back in 1980 when his wife Judy told him not to quit because he loved it too much to retire, and she does love the often associated horse races. 

Whether he returns in 2022, or not, he has umpired more than his share of games, estimated over the years he has done “well over 3000 games.” 

So what makes a good umpire in the mind of a veteran? 

“A good strike zone,” he said, adding he believes in that regard it helps he was a catcher as a player. “It comes from catching for 30 years squatting in front of good umpires.” 

Schick pointed to Orv Karius as one of those good umpires, as a fine example to him, and a man who was instrumental in his getting involved in officiating.

After that Schick said umpires need to be consistent, and they need to know the rules, which means staying current as rules do change over time. 

Schick said he has stayed with the game, adding he prefers fastball to baseball. 

“I grew up with it (fastball). Everything moves quicker,” he said. 

Schick said his first involvement in the sport was as a player at the rural Colmer School east of Duff, and that was when he was 10. He would continue to play for many years, but the chance to call balls and strikes would come along initially in 1966, because even back then there was a shortage of umpires and of people who wanted to fill the role. 

“So I did an exchange with a couple teams would do the same for Schick’s team. “I was doing six or so games (a season), and then a few more at our tournament.” 

By the time the 1970s rolled around Schick was calling 20 games a summer, “and the league final if our team wasn’t in it.” 

A decade later and Schick was getting more serious about officiating, finally registering as an official and starting to take clinics. 

“I started doing more games,” he said, adding they were still games juggled with his playing. 

“Those days larger towns like Foam Lake, Sheho, Wadena would have big two-day tournaments with good local teams, plus city teams from Regina, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert. It made for great fastball games all weekend,” he said. “As an umpire you’d do 15 games in two days.” 

The number of games and the level grew for Schick. By the 1980s and 1990s he was doing provincial play in Zone 4, and traveling up to 100 miles to do games. 

In 2004 Schick did his first ‘B’ Men’s and Women’s Western in Carnduff. He said he might have done bigger games earlier but his commitment to play and umpire locally simply kept him from applying for the bigger events. 

Into the 2000s the focus became on umpiring, and Schick was doing up to 100 games a summer, all fastball. 

But, as he became an umpire and not a player, he would expand his calling duties to include baseball, in 2009 after retiring, and even on occasion slow pitch. 

“I’ve travelled as far as Moose Jaw, Ochapowace and Grenfell to do highly contested league finals,” he said. “One August, about 1999, I did finals in three leagues, the Tri-Highway, Yellowhead and ManSask Border leagues.” 

At the same time his fastball calling was changing as a number of leagues, teams and tournaments ceased operations. 

But, Schick stayed active, applying for, and being granted more provincial, western and Canadian level games, including the U19 games in Saskatoon and Canadians in Winnipeg. He estimates he has umpired in 30 provincial events from Saskatoon to Revers to Regina to Hudson Bay. 

Schick said he has also umpired a lot of high level First Nation’s games for Ochapowace, Cowessess, Fishing Lakes, Treaty 4 tournaments and the highlight event the 2017 Canadian Native Championships held in Regina, as well as FSIN provincial playoffs.

If retirement sticks for Schick, he knows he will miss it. 

“The players, they become friends to a point I can actually visit with over a beverage,” he said.