Officiating sports is a tough and often thankless, but nonetheless necessary job. It invites criticism from either set of fans and demands the patience to deal with players and coaches as well.
The commitment required isn’t easily found, but for men like Jack Starr it was another opportunity to show his quality.
Starr passed away on July 9 at age 70. In his life he was a servant to his country in the Air Force and to his community working as an air traffic controller and postal worker. That life of service to his community extended to his charitable work and his passion to work in sports.
“He was the most well-intentioned person I’ve ever met,” friend and fellow umpire Jeff Morrison said of Starr. “If anyone was struggling to make ends meet, Jack was there with food, his presence, his prayers, and his money. He was absolutely generous and giving to a fault.”
For nearly 40 years, Starr was an area official for several sports – baseball, basketball and football among them. But his true passion was softball, for which he umpired regional, state and national tournaments for youth and adults during his tenure. Even in the last few years as his mobility waned, he helped at the scorer’s table or in the press box.
Starr was also influential in promoting softball and helping young players grow in the game.
“He was an absolute guru for softball rules and mechanics,” Morrison said. “He knew the game inside and out. If you had Jack assigned as a partner, Jack was gonna be the first one there and the last one to leave. He was always willing to help others improve their game, mentoring and teaching, and he went out of his way to teach more life lessons to the kids.”
This was echoed by Roger Short, a longtime assigning secretary for the Columbus-Lowndes Sports Officials, the Mississippi High School Activities Association for baseball and softball, and for the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools for baseball and softball.
“Jack was a strong proponent for softball,” Short said. “He was at every clinic that we conducted – he never missed a clinic – and I could put him in a state or regional or national tournament and you knew he’d be there and would give 100 percent, no matter what.
“Jack was the kind of guy I could call at 12 o’clock midnight, and say ‘I need an umpire in Jackson tomorrow at 10 o’clock,’ and he’d be there,” Short added. “And he loved it.”
Starr was a loyal friend off the field as well, said Morrison, who officiated with Starr for 15 years. He recalled a time when he was looking for a new job, and before he’d even reached out for help Starr showed up to his home with coolers of food, offering friendship and help to see him through it.
Starr was passionate about fostering a player friendly environment for kids to learn softball and play it within the rules, Morrison said. This meant more than just enforcing the rules, it meant helping younger umpires call the game and leading by example. It meant being kind and patient with the kids. And of course, it meant dealing with hotheads.
“More than once I witnessed Jack ask a coach to be more mindful of the way they addressed their players and the example they were setting,” Morrison recalled. “One coach took particular offense to this, told him to mind his own business and call the game. That didn’t go over too well with Jack. The next time the coach started berating one of his girls publicly, Jack ejected him. The coach tried to tell Jack that he couldn’t tell him how to coach.”
Jack’s response? He just smiled and said, “I didn’t tell you how to coach. You’re making a mockery and travesty of the game with your behavior. Goodbye,” according to Morrison.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.