When young athletes from across the globe take the international spotlight during the 2019 Little League World Series later this month, a North High School teacher will be among the 16 umpires calling balls and strikes.

Kelly Elliott Dine of Hudson is the only woman in the officiating crew at this year's tournament Aug. 15-25 in South Williamsport, Pa.

The tournament is televised on ESPN.

The annual 10-day tournament features the winning teams from eight U.S. Regions and eight International Regions, competing to be crowned Little League World Series Champion Aug. 25.

Dine has been a Little League volunteer umpire for 10 years. She is the first female umpire to work the world series tournament since 2013 and the sixth female to officiate the tournament in its 80-year history.

Her 10 years of volunteer work plus post-season work in districts, state and regional tournaments helped in her selection. Umpires are evaluated at the regional level and the top two or three are nominated. Thousands are on a waiting list for a single chance to umpire at the world series, she said.

“I earned my world series nomination in 2013 but there is a long waiting list,” Dine said. “I got my letter right after Christmas.”

Little League doesn’t send rejection letters, but Dine still didn’t believe she had been accepted.

She took the mail into the kitchen where her family was gathered and opened the letter.

“It’s called the golden ticket. I hollered and started crying,” she said. “It was pretty incredible. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

She also is believed to be the first female umpire to work an official NCAA D1 baseball game in the United States.

“The College Umpire Association has 2,000 umpires and I’m the only woman they have ever had,” she said. “I had to do a lot of work and camps. I wish we had a lot more ladies umpiring, and I think it will happen, but how do you get girls interested in officiating baseball?”

Dine will average umpiring two games per day during the world series, but assignments aren’t announced until the night before. Umpires are evaluated during the series and a crew is chosen for the final championship game on Aug. 25.

Her husband of 15 years, Jeff, and their three sons (Steven, 22; Alex, 20; and Aiden, 14) will cheer her on and offer their support as they have in the past when she has broken the barrier to be the first woman umpire.

“I’m really proud of her,”  her husband said. “She’s blazed new trails and she’s the only one doing college right now.”

 

The road to umping

 

The first step in her becoming an umpire came after coaching one of her son’s baseball games. She was walking across Colony Park and saw that an umpire didn’t show up for a different game.

“I stepped in,” Dine said. “I went to an umpire and said, 'I’d like to do this.'”

When her sons aged out of Little League, she transitioned to umpiring, her husband said. She understands the rules at all levels, as they are different for Little League, high school and college.

“She has a great personality working with the boys and the coaches,” he said. “She takes a very open approach to things. She explains things as needed before the start of the game and sets things in motion there. She expects the game to go smoothly. She generally allows a coach to have some level of interaction. If not appropriate, she takes care of that right way.”

Dine said she isn’t treated differently from other umpires, but a few heads will turn and ask, “Is that a woman?” when she walks on the field.

Dine has talked to other female umpires and they agree that they have more pressure to look better than others and get the calls right. Otherwise, fans can criticize and say, “That’s why we don’t have women umpires.”

“I feel like I need to be outstanding because I am a woman,” she said. “I think it will change when more women officiate.”

Dine is the biomedical science instructor at North High School in Akron, where she has taught for four years.

Her experience as a teacher translates to the baseball field, where she educates players about the rules of the game.

“She works with them and gives them hints along the way if they need them,” her husband said. “It’s difficult if people stumble over the rules.”

Her biomedical class is diverse, with students from 20 nations and six native languages.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” she said. “The championship will be the same way with all these teams from all over the world.”

 

Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434.