Coble reaches 50 years of safes and outs

Larry Coble spent a lot of his younger days playing softball in various leagues throughout Stanly County.

“I played in the City League (Albemarle Parks and Recreation), the Industrial League (YMCA) and some church leagues,” he said, “and when I figured I needed to make some extra money, I started doing some umpiring.”

Once he put on the blue uniform, the officiating bug bit hard. Coble had found something he loved to do, and 50 years later, he’s still at it.

“I started doing ASA (Amateur Softball Association) umpiring when Leon Franklin was the district commissioner,” Coble recalled. “I think we were being paid $3 a game then.”

Over time, the wages changed and so did the organizations.

“Bobby Allman was the area director of the National Softball Association (NSA), and when the local leagues changed to that affiliation, I did, too.”

Later the leagues in the area shifted to USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association), and have since affiliated with WSA (World Sports Association). But regardless of the alphabet soup being played, Coble remained a constant presence.

“Now, I’m working games being played by the grandkids of those players I started out umpiring,” he said, adding, “I love the people involved with the game.”

Larry Coble, right, is shown with Nathan Ussery, a second-generation player for whom Coble has umpired. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

And while he enjoys the competition and the give and take with players, Coble does have limits.

“I’m not going to take a lot of junk off the players,” he said, “and they know that.”

Looking at the changes during his time in the game, Coble believes recreation-level softball has been its own enemy in some ways.

“Hot bats and hot balls have hurt the game,” he observed. “When I was first playing in the (Albemarle Parks and Recreation) City League, we had some really powerful hitters playing … guys like Tommy Maiden, Chris and Raymond Ridenhour, and Jed Brooks to name a few. But because the balls and bats were ‘deader’ then, those guys only averaged about one home run a game. With today’s equipment, those guys would hit it out of the park every time.”

In Coble’s view, respect for the game has declined as well.

“Players used to hustle on and off the field between innings, and they would stay inside the dugout when not in the field … those things aren’t happening now.”

In addition, Coble observed that there isn’t as much camaraderie among the players as there once was.

“It wasn’t unusual for several teams to get together and put on a benefit tournament to help out someone in the community who was sick or hurting in some way,” he said, adding that “we would often come out and umpire those events for free.”

“You just don’t see that any more,” Coble said.

Coble, who was recognized by Albemarle Parks and Recreation recently for his longevity on the field, credits this to staying active and to God having blessed him with strength and stamina.

He also said he “has no plans to retire.”

“God has definitely blessed me to still be able to do this job,” he said. “You can’t out-give Him.”