Softball teams often are referred to as families because of the meshing of personalities and the time spent together going through battles and practices over the course of a lengthy season. However, it’s not just the players that have a familial connection to the game.
Sometimes, it’s the umpires.
In the Class 1A sectional championship game at Newark a few weeks ago, Brian Doughty worked as the umpire behind the plate, while his wife, Molly Doughty, worked the third-base line and his father-in-law and Molly’s dad, Denny Hines, worked the first-base side.
Although all three have long and distinguished careers in officiating high school and youth sports, it was the first time all three have worked a game in any sport together, with the pandemic helping to create a special moment for them all.
“Getting the opportunity to do this together is great,” said Hines, a Malta native now the age of 84 and with 35 years of working prep basketball and another 23 more of softball games under his belt. “I never thought we’d get the chance … I’d like to get to 60 [total years of officiating] that’s only a few years away.”
“And I don’t see him stopping anytime soon,” said his daughter, who then explained how the opportunity came about.
“Honestly? Thank you ‘rona,” said Molly of the coronavirus. “Usually, officials for regionals, sectionals and supersectionals get assigned by the state [IHSA]. This year, regionals and sectionals were assigned by schools. Brian and I got a text asking us if we would do this game and when we accepted, we asked if they needed a third because we knew just who to go to.”
Said Brian, “There wasn’t a second of hesitation. We knew this was a great chance to all work a game together, and we’re happy to take advantage of that.”
To say that the three live for officiating is an understatement, and they reached the highest levels in the sports they officiate.
Just before the pandemic hit, Molly got to work her first state final in girls basketball, handling the Class 1A championship game between Lewistown and Lanark Eastland. The pressure and excitement of it all gave her “dry mouth like I’ve never had before.”
“When I was finishing college, my dad asked me if I wanted to stay involved in basketball and I said, ‘Yes!’ Then he handed me the striped shirt and I said, ‘No!’,” laughed Molly, a native of Seneca now 42 years of age. “In the beginning, I did do it, under protest, for a few games. Those first few, I had him there with me and it was fine. First game without him, I had to kick out a parent, which taught me what schools not to go to anymore.
“Honestly, after those games, I was hooked. There are still games when you get frustrated and have a few choice words on the way home, but to do it for 21 years, something must be going right.”
Brian, a Mendota native and now a veteran of 17 years working softball and football games, got involved in officiating after coaching his daughter’s softball games.
“I saw first-hand how many bad umpires they had then, so I had to get involved in this and make a difference,” he said. ”Obviously, I’m glad I did.”
“Otherwise you wouldn’t have been cursed with me for the rest of your life,” Molly said.
Not surprisingly, the couple first met while working a basketball game when Molly’s officiating partner backed out at the last minute and Brian was called in to replace him. Eventually, they wed and planned their honeymoon around Brian working in the 2015 11-12 Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Ore., his second such assignment.
He previously had worked the 13-14 Junior League Softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash. in 2011.
“I had known of Molly prior to that, but that was the first time we worked together,” said the 55-year-old Brian, who with Molly were assigned by the IHSA to work a 2A supersectional in East Peoria the week after the Newark game.
“I was always hoping that someday the three of us would get to work together, but as Molly said, it came about only because we had the chance to pick the third person in our crew. It worked out for all three of us. It’s a moment we won’t forget.”