Islander finds her spot on the diamond
Ila Valcarcel said she played ball as a kid, but it wasn’t until she came to Pine Island that she even thought about becoming an umpire.
“I was doing work at Pine Island Elementary, so I knew all the little kids,” said Valcarcel, explaining her first experience as an umpire for Pine Island Little League. “After I started umpiring I figured I needed some training. I got ahold of the Little League umpire group and I started going through training.”
Within the next three to four years it became obvious to her that she was not accepted on the grounds that she is female.
“There was nothing I could do that was going to make them accept me,” she said.
Valcarcel said even though she was evaluated approximately four times and adhered to every rule, it became clear that no matter what she did, her male peers did not want her there, even in a faction as small as Little League.
“Finally, the head of the district said that I was able to umpire at a district tournament,” said Valcarcel. It was at this point she felt she was becoming a trend-setter. she said.
Having a deep desire to move from softball to baseball, it wasn’t long before she found herself out on the big field.
“It was a faster-moving game and I liked it. It was more competitive,” she said of the switch to baseball.
After taking more than what she considered her fair share of criticism, Valcarcel said she decided to attend the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires in Daytona. One of only two women in the five-week course, she was presented with the Gerry Davis Golden Mask Award, for her encouragement of fellow students.
Although Valcarcel said she didn’t land a job after completing the course, the other woman who attended umpire school with her was Perry Barber, who began the first all-female umpire crew for the New York Mets and the University of Michigan.
Valcarcel was one of these women who made baseball history, she said.
“It was the first time ever that four women — an all woman crew, umpired an exhibition game for Major League Baseball,” Valcarcel said.
Not too long after graduation from the school she signed up for the local high school association and had no trouble getting in, followed by a tryout for the Florida Collegiate Umpire Association. This tryout consists of half an inning in which to demonstrate your ability as an umpire. She recalls having gotten lost and getting to the tryout just in time for her evaluation.
“I remember the catcher saying, ‘Do you want to take some pitches, because you haven’t seen a pitch,'” said Valcarcel. “I said, ‘Buddy, I’m already late. Let’s go.'”
After her tryout demonstration, she said she was immediately hired, making her the only female in the Florida Collegiate Umpire Association, a title granted her for four years. The four-year stint ended when Valcarcel took a blow to the head from an incoming ball at a game in Tampa. The vision impairment, migraines and short-term memory loss which resulted from the blow continue to date, she said.
“I went to the doctor, and the doctor said if I get hit again it could kill me, so as much as I love baseball, I’m not willing to die for it. I have kids,” she said.
It was at that point Valcarcel became an evaluator for the Florida Collegiate Umpires; an assignment she said did little to improve her relationship with some of her male coworkers.
“They didn’t like the fact that I knew what to look for,” said Valcarcel of her male colleagues. “They didn’t like that I was critiquing them.”
Eventually the migraines she suffered as a result of getting hit in the head with a baseball became too serious to ignore and Valcarcel became a supervisor for Perfect Game, just to stay in the game, in addition to doing some work with Baseball for All, an organization focused on girls who want to play baseball.
Overall, she said, her career as an umpire was very successful.
“I went to Japan and umpired a World Cup Game,” Valcarcel said, adding that she’s still active, mentoring other women umpires and also in a focus group, as women are making progress in the field. In fact, she said there are people in the game actively searching for female umpires.
“If you’re a female who enjoys baseball and you want to be a part of the game as an umpire, they’re looking for you,” Valcarcel said. “They call it the glass ceiling, and we weren’t able to break through it, but now we have.”