For the love of the games


Columbians John and Karen Dye say they always have enjoyed sports, but neither has ever been content to just watch from the sidelines. For about three decades, the Dyes have made separate marks in sports as team officials and tournament organizers.

John, 58, umpires at league, high school, and college softball tournaments and is active in the sport's two leading governing bodies, the National Softball Association and the Amateur Softball Association.

Karen, 57, officiates field hockey and women's lacrosse at the high school and college levels and is tournament director for the annual Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament, held over Memorial Day weekend for about 250 teams from across the country.

Both from Pennsylvania

The Dyes, both originally from Pennsylvania, moved to Maryland in the early 1970s, when he began working at the National Security Agency. It was through his job, from which he is retired, that John got started as a team official.

"I was playing on some rec teams at work," he said, "and someone suggested that they needed people in Columbia to officiate at games. I started, liked it, and that was it."

Through the years, John has officiated baseball, softball, football and basketball, but softball alone claims his attention now. He has not tired of softball or his responsibilities - even after more than 30 years in the sport, he said.

"I like the camaraderie I have with the other officials, I like working at some of the games and I like the opportunities I've had to travel to national tournaments," he said. "It's a neat experience to be able to contribute, especially at the top levels."

As assistant umpire-in-chief for National Softball Association games in Maryland, he is in charge of recruiting, training and assigning umpires for that organization throughout the state.

On Oct. 12 and 13, he will coordinate officials at the annual Ted Wolf Memorial Tournament, a men's slow-pitch softball event that attracts about 50 teams to Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks diamonds.

Named for state trooper

The tournament is named for Cpl. Ted Wolf, a state trooper and frequent softball player who was killed on Interstate 95 at Route 175 in March 1990.

In addition to the hours spent on softball, John is a four-term president of the Columbia Volksmarch Club, a hiking and walking club that sponsors six 10-kilometer walks a year.

"Nobody wins," said John of the noncompetitive, family-oriented walks. "Or rather, as we like to say, everyone's a winner."

John was introduced to volks- marching when he spent three years in Stuttgart, Germany, as part of a tour of duty with the Department of Defense. He has now walked more than 19,000 kilometers (about 11,900 miles).

"The attraction of volks- marching is getting out and walking, and seeing areas and sites that we might not ordinarily see," said John, who lays out many of the local trails himself, which means taking a lot of 6.2-mile walks. "It's neat when people say they've seen something they've never seen before. I try to expose them to all of Columbia."

While John was first to get into officiating, Karen soon joined him.

"After our third child was born in 1979 [the Dyes have two daughters, 31 and 24, and a son, 29, with their first grandchild on the way], John suggested that I officiate field hockey, which I had played in high school and college," said Karen, who added lacrosse to her mix of activities a few years later.

"It feels like I'm giving back to the game, plus it's good exercise," said Karen, who like her husband is a Penn State University graduate. She played on Penn State's first women's lacrosse team.

Busy schedule

The Dyes work at their respective sports virtually year-round. Field hockey and lacrosse, said Karen, now go indoors in the winter. Softball, said John, has spring/summer and fall seasons - as well as an off-season that typically consists of clinics and training to get ready for the next season.

Over the years, Karen and John have seen changes in their sports.

"The kids are bigger, their skills are better, and they're much faster," said Karen. "We have to keep up with them. That's one of the reasons that, at some point, we need to get younger people involved in officiating. We're not getting any younger."

She likes how far lacrosse, especially, has come in Howard County.

State championships

"In just 13 or 14 years," she said, "we've gone from nothing to participating in state championships" at the high school level.

John sees changes in the schedule young athletes must keep.

"There are more travel teams," he said, "and most of the kids are now playing almost year-round."

John also officiates at adult softball games - slow-pitch men's, women's, and co-ed games. He also sees athletes as being stronger than they were years ago.

"With the weight training many people do today, guys and gals alike are stronger and hit the ball farther and harder," he said.

The Dyes agree that one perk of their officiating is getting paid to take part in games, John observing that "most people don't get paid for their hobbies."

But both add that the money they earn is not really a motivating factor.

"We put a lot of time in for which we don't get paid," John Dye said. "But what we get back is the satisfaction of seeing the games get better. That's what's important."

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