Jason Booth has been around sports all his life – as an athlete, a fan, and an official.
Last month he was named the outstanding official in softball at the KHSAA Officials Division Recognition Awards Banquet.
“It was unexpected,” Booth said. “It was nice to get that email from the KHSAA saying I’d been nominated for the award. When they called my name out that was cool.”
Three officials from each of the 11 sports sanctioned by the KHSAA were nominated for official of the year with one chosen from each sport.
“A lot of coaches and umpires, different people, have emailed or texted me,” Booth said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”
Booth, 44, of Frankfort is completing his 20th year as a softball umpire. He’s also refereed basketball for the past 24 years.
His love of sports began early in life when he was growing up in Shelby County.
“I played baseball at Shelby County, and I was a sports fanatic,” Booth said. “I grew up playing sports – on a school team, in the back yard, a rec league. I’ve always been a sports fan.”
In 1989 when Booth’s wife Ruth was working for the Eminence Independent School District David Baird, superintendent of the district, told Booth an official was needed for a middle school basketball game and asked him if he would be willing to do it.
From that simple request grew a life-long love of officiating. Booth added umpiring high school softball games, slow-pitch at the time, shortly after that.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “Any time you’re new at something, I read books, learned all I could. They had a supervisor for basketball, but they didn’t have a supervisor for softball, and you were under contract with schools to call their games.
“Mainly with softball I fell in love with the sport, the whole aspect of team, team building, and watching teams achieve and do well.”
That love continues despite having a job most people think they could do better.
“When you start out you hear all kinds of stuff,” Booth said about fans. “People can be relentless, but as you get experience you develop a thick skin.”
That helps tune out some of the criticism.
“Now someone would have to really get obscene, use bad language,” Booth said, “and knock on wood I don’t have those events at my games. I work hard, hustle to get to the right place, and give 100 percent to everything I’m doing.
“A lot of the comments are when people are not in the right place, not getting in position to make the right call, and they can give the impression of being lazy or not working hard.
“I call it preventative officiating. I go out every game I do and give 110 percent every play.”
Booth referees basketball games in the 8th Region, and he works the 10th and 11th Regions in softball out of the Metro Softball Association.
He also calls softball games in the Mid-South Conference and KIAC. He was a basketball referee in both of those conferences until about 10 years ago when he gave it up to spend more time with his family, which includes daughters Ashley and Amber.
Ashley will be a sophomore at Georgetown College this fall, and Amber will be a sophomore at Western Hills.
Booth has also done some coaching in recreation leagues and at Bondurant and Western Hills.
“School ball involves a lot more time, a lot more practice,” he said. “It’s a different animal. Then my daughters drifted away from softball to volleyball.”
He’s also coached some YMCA volleyball teams.
Coaching his daughters is one thing – officiating their games is another.
He’s done that just once, when Ashley had a Parks and Recreation league game and an umpire was needed at the last minute.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Booth said. “I was not comfortable doing it. I called both coaches over before the game and told them I was going to call to the way I always do. One thing I always recommend to any official it to avoid that situation by all possible means.”
Booth averages working three to four nights a week during softball season and calling two games a night – varsity and junior varsity.
That’s a lot of time with his fellow umpires, and it’s that time that provides him with his favorite memory of the sport.
“It’s the camaraderie with the other umpires, being out there talking to them before the game, after the game,” he said. “It’s that bond, that trust. You go though the good times and the bad times and all the different scenarios.
“Sports fan that I am, the love of the game has to be a factor with it, but it’s the camaraderie and relationships you build over time. You’ve been through war, in the trenches, however you want to paraphrase it, but you go through the good times, the bad times, and you try to improve things for the sport.”
When Booth does any training or evaluation of umpires, he has a simple message for them.
“I tell them to treat every game as if it’s your last chance to walk on that field, your last chance to make a positive impact, a positive memory,” he said.
“I told my teams to treat each game as if it was the last game they’d have an opportunity to play. Play softball, respect the game, but enjoy the moment.”
And he has no plans to stop calling games any time soon.
“As long as my judgment and body hold up – my judgment, eyesight, hearing, whatever,” he said. “I’ll do it as long as I can. I think I can make it to 60.”
Booth is employed by Bennett’s Gas, a propane gas company in Taylorsville, and Ruth is the guidance secretary at WHHS. The couple teaches a high school Sunday School class at Memorial Baptist Church.
It’s another way to have an impact on his community.
“When I have an opportunity to make a speech or do a clinic, I tell officials what I try to do is make a positive difference,” Booth said. “I want to be remembered as that guy, ‘You know, he worked hard, he hustled, but he treated me like a person.’
“I want people to say I was fair, honest, and I was professional. That’s what I strive for.”