So this really happened Saturday night in Laurel at a softball game involving 12-year-old girls. A team from Hattiesburg played a team from Laurel in a United States Fastpitch Association (USFA) travel league softball tournament.
The score does not matter. It will be forgotten in days, if not already. What happened will not be forgotten by those who witnessed the scene.
This is from eyewitnesses:
During the game, Kiara Thomas, the mother of one of the Hattiesburg players, persistently berated the umpires, using vulgar language. She was warned to stop. She did not. Finally, she was told to leave the premises. She left the stands but not before threatening umpire Kristi Moore of Ellisville, again using vulgar language. Thomas apparently never left the softball complex.
The game ended. Thomas accosted Moore just after she had exited the field. “You got something to say to me, b—-?” Thomas said. And then Thomas slugged her with what several witnesses described as “a sucker punch.”
Thomas, wearing a T-shirt that said “Mother of the Year,” then left, but not before a witness followed her, took a cellphone photo of her license plate and called Laurel police. Thomas was stopped and arrested minutes later. She was charged with misdemeanor simple assault and bonded out at a cost of $425.25. An initial court date has been set for May 18. A preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Moore has a black eye (a severe contusion and nerve damage, her doctor said) and a bruised eardrum. Moore, the umpire in chief for USFA statewide, officiated the game Saturday night because another umpire became ill and could not.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. More and more, youth league umpires and high school umpires, referees and officials are the victims of both verbal and sometimes physical threats and abuse. Moore, who assigns umpires for tournaments across the state, says there is a shortage of umpires in travel leagues and recreation leagues because of the mostly verbal abuse from fans, primarily parents.
Robert Holloway, who coordinates umpires for the Mississippi High Schools Activities Association (MHSAA), says games have been postponed and even cancelled because of the shortage of umpires. “We’ve had to adjust playing dates and sometimes simply not play the games because we don’t have anybody to call them,” Holloway said. “Umpires are quitting and unfortunately few want to replace them.”
He blames the shortage of umpires on fan abuse. “We need some legislation for laws with some teeth in them in Mississippi like there are in some other states to protect sports officials,” Holloway said. Holloway said such legislation was proposed this legislative session but it died in committee.
Moore, who works as program director for Laurel’s AmeriCorps, said Tuesday that she began umpiring because she had a stepdaughter who played and “because I have always loved the game.”
The events of Saturday night have caused her to re-think her future in softball umpiring.
“That’s something I’ve got to decide,” she said by phone from Laurel. “I can’t say what I will do at this point, but it’s definitely on my mind. I am a single mom, raising two kids. When I got home Saturday night they both burst into tears. I don’t know … I’ve got to think about it. I mean, what if she had had a gun or a knife?”
Moore cancelled two nights of rec league umpiring this week.
Andrea Russell, another umpire, witnessed the scene. She wasn’t the calling the game but said she was there to watch Moore “in hopes of learning something. She’s the best.”
“Kristi made the right call and handled herself well under the circumstances,” Russell said. “She didn’t deserve what happened to her in the slightest.”
The incident has made Kristi Moore — and Kiara Thomas, for that matter — famous through social media.
“I’ve had messages of support from as far away as Nigeria, Australia and Canada,” Moore said. “The amount of support has been unbelievable, but it’s not the way I wanted to become famous.”
Attempts to reach Thomas were unsuccessful. In a cryptic Facebook post, since removed, she did not sound the least bit repentant. In all caps, she wrote: “I do not play that respectful s— and I will not let you make it once you cross that line. And nobody can ever make an example out of me. A misdemeanor that Im gone beat … f— yall thought.”