Thursday, October 22, 2020

In COVID Era, Wendelstedt Turns to Online Ump School

When 2020's MLB postseason began, Hunter Wendelstedt was one of only a few umpires who did not take the field. Turns out, with his foot in a boot, he physically couldn't. Instead, he wondered how to operate his umpire school in a COVID-19 world where prospective students throughout the country either might balk at the risk of in-person instruction, or, much like Hunter and the 2020 postseason, would be physically unable to travel to Ormond Beach for one reason or another, where the Wendelstedt Umpire School has been operating for decades.

In a year when MiLB Umpire Academy announced the cancellation of its January 2021 session as well as the 2021 Minor League Baseball Advanced Course due to the pandemic, the Wendelstedt School might have befallen a similar fate, now well known to countless small businesses.

But the Wendelstedt School isn't just a small business: According to the Florida Department of Education, it is a licensed independent educator, and as so many educators have done in 2020, Wendelstedt prepares to adapt to a new model of coursework: distance learning. "We have to be flexible," explains Wendelstedt, who expects his recuperation from a high ankle sprain should have him back on the field by 2021.

Enter The Wendelstedt Umpire School Online Prep Course, a five-week online program that kicks off November 28, 2020 and will reward a partial scholarship to the flagship, in-person Wendelstedt Umpire School to the student who earns the highest grade (there are nine online quizzes and a final exam).

Even ump school is going online.
As Wendelstedt prepares for this newest venture, he explains how the idea of an online program came into existence: "This idea has been something I've been thinking about for a while. We've started to use video at our banquet in order to teach the guys about some of the greats like Lee Weyer and some of the older guys who came before and paved the way. So we started putting stuff on CDs and now digital, and last year we started taping the field work as we try to adapt how we teach to the changing times. If you miss something you can watch it, and that's what this is all about. We train umpires and now we're training them in the virtual world."

Wendelstedt credits his staff with the tech savviness to undertake the new online effort. Explains Director of Online Instruction Ben Engstrand, "This course was absolutely created as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe it is our responsibility to provide umpires with as many opportunities as possible."

Harry & Hunter Wendelstedt, 1998.
Says Hunter, "This class is really for anyone who loves the game, but also wants to learn the rules the right way. Look at Laz [Diaz]. He came to school and it hasn't always been easy for him and now he's just called Game 1 of the World Series in that bubble environment which has challenges that most aren't aware of."

There will be a lot of unknowns ("We don't know anything about how the system will be next year" says Hunter), but in the coronavirus era, even umpire school must adapt.

Will it work? That's another unknown, but Hunter chalks up the new approach to his upbringing: "I've grown up around dad [former National League umpire Harry Wendelstedt] and this is what we do."


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