A remembrance

Dennis Wooster — Mr. Umpire — respected for unwavering diamond integrity

Longtime MVHS teacher, coach, Panther supporter fondly remembered
By Ken Waltz | Sep 15, 2017
Photo by: Ken Waltz Dennis Wooster umpires an Eastern Class B playoff game at Camden Hills Regional High School in the spring of 2012.

Waldoboro — Dennis Wooster was many things to many people, but, in Maine baseball circles, he was the man in blue. Mr. Umpire. A no-nonsense guy who always called it like he saw it.

For that, along with his unwavering integrity, honesty and professionalism on the diamond, he was respected and will be fondly remembered after his unexpected death on Aug. 12. The Warren resident was 69 years old.

Wooster's love for umpiring baseball came at a young age when, as a high school student, he worked his first Little League game and, at that very moment, the bug had beaten him.

That love of the game, the players, coaches and fellow umpires, which seeped deep into his heart and soul that first game, never diminished over his more than 50 years on the diamond.

Wooster liked to tell the story of when he was in high school and was bored one early summer evening so he drove to the then Rockland Little League field on Thomaston Street. There he found longtime teacher/coach/official Gene Gallagher working the game and Gallagher saw Wooster standing by the fence on the sideline and asked the young man to join him on the field.

It was 1965 and Wooster, about age 16 at the time, stepped onto the field and literally never stepped off. He worked that game and then literally hundreds in the decades that followed.

Wooster was born on March 19, 1948 in Rockland. He graduated from Rockland District High School in 1967. He earned a degree in education and went to work at Medomak Valley High School in 1972 and continued to teach business at that school until 2004.

While at MVHS he also taught driver's ed and was a successful girls basketball coach.

He continued his connection to education in 2008, until his death, as a member of the Regional School Unit 40 Board.

While he was involved in so many aspects of education, it was on the baseball diamond, as an umpire, where Wooster felt most at home.

In 1967 he became a member of Knox-Lincoln-Waldo Umpires Association; he umpired his first state championship game, Little League baseball, in 1971 in Bath. He was awarded the Ellsworth W. Millett Award in 1981 and, in 1982, an engraved brick with Wooster's name on it was placed with others at the Little League East Regional Headquarters for their significant contributions to Little League baseball.

Wooster umpired for more than fifty-one years in countless playoff games, district and state championships at all levels from Little league to Babe Ruth and high school. He also umpired softball games.

According to his obituary, he felt fortunate to umpire at “some of the best ballparks in Maine” including Hadlock Field, Mansfield Stadium and Mahaney Diamond. One of his fondest umpiring memories was when former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill 'Spaceman" Lee came with his friends and played a local group as a fundraiser.

As the years past, some may have forgotten the success Wooster experienced in coaching girls basketball. He led the Panthers seven season. In fact, his 1977-78 team finished 18-0 and Class B West runners-up. That still has been the only MVHS girls basketball team to go undefeated in a regular season. His career record was 84-34 and his squads qualified for the regional tournament each season but one.

Along with umpiring and coaching, Wooster also enjoyed his role as announcer for the Eastern Class B wrestling championships hosted at Medomak Valley.

For 27 seasons, after retiring from coaching, Wooster returned to the high school to run the clock and announce at home athletic events for Medomak Valley High School 1981 through 2007.

The following are the thoughts about Wooster from a handful of people from the Midcoast athletic scene:

Jeff Kinney — longtime sports official

"I just completed my 22nd year of umpiring, 27th including my five years of Little League before I was old enough to join the high school board. My career started, in large part, thanks to Dennis. We had to do a career project for a seventh-grade class at age 12, and I interviewed Dennis about umpiring. I started working Little League games that spring, 1991. I've been blessed since to work 22 years of high school, legion and Babe Ruth, eight years of college, including two NCAA regionals, and I work a pretty solid schedule in the Cape Cod Baseball League. NONE of those things would be possible without his getting me started and his words of wisdom along the way. As recently as [a few weeks ago] we chatted online about our respective 2017 seasons. He was a tremendous influence for a lot of people both on and off the field. Sports officiating numbers are at a crisis state in every sport, and there are fewer people like Dennis around who have devoted a lifetime to the trade, and making sure the passion lives on."

Don Shields — Oceanside High School baseball coach/longtime radio broadcaster

"I knew Dennis before I began umpiring, but once I joined the board more than 20 years ago we became great friends. I worked my first high school game with Dennis and like he did for many years with others he was a mentor, always teaching young umpires about positioning and how to become a better umpire.

"Once I switched to coaching, Dennis and I had some great discussions both on and off the field and it is safe to say we didn’t always agree. I told Dennis several times when we disagreed it was uniform-on-uniform crime. My uniform disagreed with your uniform’s decision (we would laugh about that after the fact).

"What was great about Dennis is that when you worked with him as an umpire or he showed up to work your game, you always knew he was going to give you his best effort and that he was there for the love of the game.

"On [Aug. 12] we lost a man who loved baseball, loved the Midcoast area and was always loyal to his friends. I know I will miss our baseball conversations and locally we’ll miss a man who truly cared about youth baseball in the area."

Steve Alex — Camden Hills Regional High School athletic director

"I was very sorry to hear about Dennis. I really enjoyed working with him as the assignor for the Midcoast Umpire Assocation.

"Dennis always went above and beyond to make sure our dynamic spring baseball and softball season was always supported with officials.

"He was also greatly respected for his knowledge of baseball."

Mark Haskell — Courier Publications/VillageSoup Associate Sports Director

"Having been in this job for 10 years now, I've gotten to know Dennis a little more every spring and summer. From high school baseball and softball, to Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion, Dennis would umpire all of these sporting events — and not treat any age group any more or less important than the next.

"He was genuine and friendly, and was always all about the kids.

"Dennis was always a fan of the New York Yankees. He and I had plenty of discussions between innings of games about the Yankees and Red Sox, and would never be afraid to give it to us Red Sox fans whenever the situation presented itself.

"My oldest son Beckett — whose name is at least a partial homage to former Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett — had met Dennis on a couple of occasions when he would come with me to games. And Dennis would always ask Beckett, "Why didn't your dad name you Jeter?" Beckett, who is now seven years old, did not really understand why Dennis and I would laugh at that, but Dennis always made the effort to come over and say hello to him. And he did that because he valued relationships with people, which is one of many reasons why he was such a great umpire.

"Most people after having heart surgery in their mid-60s would have used that as an excuse to get away from an activity such as umpiring. Dennis was not most people and he continued to do games at a high level, even umpiring the Class D South regional baseball championship between Searsport and Richmond in June.

"Next spring will certainly be an adjustment not seeing Dennis behind the plate or in the field.

"If there is a small glimmer of warmth in the passing of such a great man, I think it is very poetic that the last baseball game he likely saw was on Friday night, Aug. 11 — as the Yankees held on for a 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium."

Jeff Hart — Camden Hills Regional High School boys basketball coach

"I first met Dennis when I started coaching basketball and he was the timer at Medomak Valley games. I don't know he knew this about me, but he seemed to have the ability to get under my skin, and he would do it before every game we played over there. I can look back at it now and laugh, but at the time I didn't think it was that funny. He would always call me over right before the game and tell me that when I substituted, if the players were not at the table, then he wouldn't buzz them in. Sure enough, usually in a big moment of a game, in a rare moment that I might be upset at an official (haha), he wouldn't hit the horn to get someone in the game. And, of course, I would have a 'reaction.' After a couple of years, I figured it out and would not let it bother me.

"I really got to know Dennis when I got involved in baseball. And what I found out was that ALL he cared about was doing a good job for the kids. Baseball was obviously his love and he cared deeply about the games being umpired with integrity. I'm not coaching baseball anymore, but it's going to feel really strange to come out to games next year in the Midcoast and not see him there. I will miss talking with him. I'll miss seeing his Facebook posts, many of which were intended to poke Red Sox and/or Patriots' fans.

"This is a really sad time, but his impact on the games, and his legacy, will be felt for years to come."

Terry Kenniston — Belfast Area High School athletic director

“I was a certified umpire in the Bangor area and I became part of that board. And he was well into that career at that point, and it was like a flashback. He umpired my Little League games in the mid-60s and that’s where that career started.”

“He was a guy that even as a Little League umpire, was in control. He had that same demeanor when he started as he did when he did games this spring. And to watch him umpire over the years as a colleague or in an administrative role when I was at Rockland or at Belfast later in my career, one thing about Dennis Wooster is he didn’t really change. He had that personality of being professional.

“I was 11, 12 years old playing Little League baseball and he was part of that [for me].

“My first time umpiring was down in Bath and Dennis had to protect me. I was umpiring third base and a kid from Bath missed third base on a home run. I think it was against Knox Suburban back when Butch Farley’s kids were playing. And I rung him up and the people from Bath started throwing rocks at me. All down the third base line. And Dennis stops the game, comes over and says, ‘Any more of that this game will be over and it’ll be a forfeit.’ And I’m 20-something years old thinking, ‘Wow do I really want to do this?’ And Dennis just said, ‘It’s part of what we do.

“It was a passion of his. People respected him as an umpire. Just like with anything, people don’t always agree with your calls and those types of things, but Dennis was very consistent over the years with how he managed the game. And he truly enjoyed what he did.

“He was always an umpire that was in consideration to do an Eastern Maine final or Western Maine final or a state championship game on a pretty regular basis. Every year they’d want one person from each board doing one of those games. And that was based on coaches' voting and he was always in consideration.

“He certainly didn’t play favorites. He did it the way it needed to be done. He made the calls the way they needed to be made and people respected that.

“He was a fixture at Medomak Valley. If there was an event going on at Medomak Valley you could almost guarantee Dennis Wooster would be there.

“Sometimes as umpires get older or officials get older their ability to perform at a high level diminishes. I don’t think people thought that of Dennis.

“The umpiring community has certainly lost a great umpire and a great person.

"When you do regional and national games at the Little League level, working at the College World Series and those kinds of things. Those were great experiences for him, but those kids that played in those games, they got his best. Dennis showed up every day and you got his best."

Matt Lash — Medomak Valley High School athletic director

"Dennis was a devoted and cherished member of our district for over five decades. He took great pride in RSU 40 as a teacher, varsity girls basketball coach, basketball block operator and most recently, by serving on the school board. It's remarkable to think about all he accomplished during his professional life, including being one of the best baseball umpires in Maine for such a long period of time. He understand the value and many benefits that sports had to offer our students. That was no more evident than by the support he gave our athletes at contests throughout the school year. You can't replace the impact he had, particularly with baseball, in the Midcoast. He will be missed in many ways."

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 15, 2017 14:31

RIP! You did well young man and enough said!

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