By Jeremy Izzio
The Little League World Series is the pinnacle of youth sports. Since its inception in 1947, the tournament has continued to grow and is now televised nationally on ESPN and includes teams from around the globe.
Being selected to umpire Little League's biggest tournament has long been one of Chad Bongiovanni's aspirations. This week, the Fredonia High School graduate was able to take one step closer to achieving that goal.
Bongiovanni has been umpiring the State Little League tournament this past week in Lockport, where he has been behind the plate for two games, at second base for a game and down the third base line for another.
"Its a huge honor (to umpire the state tournament)," said Marv Cummings, District Administrator for NY District 38. "Chad is working his way up and I think ultimately he would like to umpire the Little League World Series."
Bongiovanni was selected based on Cumming's recommendation as well as his dedication to the craft.
"I recommended him to the state tournament committee and they took my word that he was a very dedicated umpire," said Cummings. "He does a ton of Little League games in the summer. He assigns over 150 games a year and he works probably close to 70 games himself."
Bongiovanni has been umpiring for four years and also holds the position of umpire consultant. As consultant, he is responsible for assigning District 38 umpires to the various local tournaments on top of the games he personally umps.
Bongiovanni has umpired primarily at the youth level as well as umpiring local high school baseball.
"Little League is primarily where I got most of my experience," he said. "Our high school seasons around here are so short due to the weather, so working a lot of summer ball within Little League is where I really gained a lot of experience."
Experience is what it takes to get selected to umpire in Williamsport, Pa., the annual location of the Little League World Series. Climbing the ladder through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments is a process. A process that Bongiovanni started four years ago.
For the first two years of his umping career, Bongiovanni was selected to umpire district tournaments. The following two years he moved up to the sectional level before being selected to umpire the state tournament this year. Next year, Bongiovanni is hoping to take the next step toward Williamsport.
"At that point I will have had district and state tournaments under my belt," he said. "Once I do get some regional experience it will just be a matter of time. I'll just continue to get years of service in and then basically just wait my turn."
Bongiovanni has been either playing, coaching or umpiring for the majority of his life. He played his high school ball at Fredonia under coach Vince Gullo. After high school, he went on to play Division II baseball at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. There, he was a standout catcher earning All-Conference selections three times.
Next he took to coaching, assisting the Fredonia State baseball team for seven years. Despite being a standout player through college and coaching at the collegiate level, it is his time playing youth baseball that has left the deepest impressions.
With constant travel and nights away from home, umpiring can put strain on a family. Luckily for Bongiovanni he has the total support of his wife Danielle.
"I give my wife all the credit in the world," he said. "She deals with me not being home almost every night. But she knows how much I love it and how much staying in the game means to me, so she supports me and comes whenever she can."
Bongiovanni's parents are also supportive and, like they have done throughout his playing career, enjoy coming to his games. He estimates that his father Anthony attends approximately 70 percent of his games every summer.
"Its nice to have my family's support," he said. "Not only from my wife but from my parents, too. They enjoy coming to watch me umpire. As odd as that seems, they used to come watch me play and now they come and watch me umpire because they enjoy seeing me stay in the game. I owe a lot of gratitude to them for allowing me to do something I love to do so much."
For Bongiovanni, umpiring has filled a void that was created when his playing days came to an end.
"When my playing career was over, I really wanted to find a way to stay in the game," he said. "I coached at Fredonia State as an assistant for seven years but then I got into umpiring and I really loved it. I felt like I was a part of the game again."
Feeling like he was a part of the game was the key.
Many former players are unable to replace the feeling they got while playing. Bongiovanni found that he was able to get the same adrenaline rush from umpiring as he did from playing. As a result, he was able to stay involved in the game he loved and umpiring truly became his passion.
"When I was playing I would get a little nervous and anxious before the game," Bongiovanni said. "I feel the same way when I'm going to umpire. As an umpire, you play an important part. Good or bad umpiring can determine the outcome of a game, so knowing that I'm going to play a crucial role in that game I get a little nervous just like when I used to play. That's part of the reason why I love it so much. I really feel like I'm still part of the game."