Finally, the members of the umpiring Wolff family are starting to spread their wings.
But only a little.
This unique quartet of officials from Atkinson, N.H. — father Sheldon, 25-year-old son Russ and 24-year-old twin daughters Rachel and Rebecca — have all been umpiring baseball and softball games for at least five years and they're beginning to do more games by themselves or with non-family members.
Given a choice, however, Sheldon and his offspring prefer to umpire with one another, which is often advantageous to leagues and coaches who request one umpire for their games and then get two and, in some cases, three. When one family member is assigned a game, the rest of the crew often helps out.
"We just love the game and we like to work together," said Sheldon. "Most coaches usually love it. They get two of us for the price of one and we always learn something."
Sometimes, all four of the umpiring Wolffs will show up for a game and one or two will be on the sideline observing, picking up strengths and potential weaknesses that can be pointed out later.
While Rachel admits that it's gotten to the point that it's advantageous to work with different umpires, "to get another look, to see how others work," she and her sister still love doing games within the family, even if that means less income for all of them.
Explained Rebecca: "We don't care about the money and we all split it (fee) anyway. We just enjoy it and do it for the love of the game."
The family has always done things together. With the three children born only 14 months apart, they were usually together in youth leagues, with Sheldon coaching.
"We've just always done a lot of things together as a family," said Sheldon. "We've done a lot of traveling and we've been to all 32 (major league) parks."
When Sheldon was finished as a youth coach, his wife Heather suggested, after seeing a notice in the paper, that he become an umpire. He thought that it was a good idea and then asked Russ if he'd like to try it as well. Russ readily answered in the affirmative.
Twins overcome biases
Within a year, with their softball careers winding down at Timberlane, the twins decided that maybe they should give umpiring a whirl as well. After all, Russ and their father seemed to be enjoying it.
All of them became certified from the start by the Merrimack Valley Conference Umpires Association and, by this year, they had all reached Level 3, which is the highest skill level.
At first, unless they were thrust upon a coach as an "extra" with their father or brother, it was not easy for the girls to be assigned games.
"I think there was some hesitancy from some people and when coaches would see one or both of them coming, you could tell they weren't too keen on having a girl umpire," said Sheldon. "But then when they worked the game, and they did such a good job, there weren't any problems."
Rande Chabot, who assigns umpires for various youth leagues, quickly found out that Rachel and Rebecca, were highly competent.
"They do a nice job and I've heard nothing but good things about them," said Chabot. "Some of the coaches have asked that they come back."
Steve Collins, a past president of the MVUA and a highly regarded veteran umpire, evaluated Rachel when she was attempting to reach Level 3.
"She did a great job," said Collins. "She has a presence behind the plate, she moves around very well and she handled every situation very well. I think both (girls) are just as good umpires as their father and brother, no question, and maybe even better."
Rebecca, who became treasurer of the 200-plus MVUA membership this spring, relishes the fact that she is not only a competent umpire, but a female one.
"People are surprised at first that we're girl umpires, but I think coaches and parents like it," she said. "And I think the players see that we can do the job and then they realize that it's possible for them. We're kind of like mentors."
As the girls' stock has risen, so have the number of games umpired by the entire family. Since late April, Sheldon, Russ and Rebecca have all done at least 50 games. Rachel is a little behind because she was busy in the spring as a second-year law student completing the academic year.
"We're busy almost every day and if we can do a game, we will," said Sheldon. "We all love the game and it's been a great experience for the kids. They need to know the rules and they learn quickly how to deal with adults.
"Watching them mature on the field and become so good at what they do has been great for me. I love going out there with them."
And apparently the family that umpires together, stays together because none of them have any plans on handing in their mask and clicker anytime soon.
"I plan on doing it a long time," said Russ. "I enjoy the game and I like to help out, give back to the game. I don't think any of us will stop doing this."
Meet the umpiring Wolffs
Sheldon — The 61-year-old father joined the MVUA and became a certified umpire in 2003. He owns Wolff Realty.
Russ — A 25-year-old graduate of Clarkson University who actually played tennis in high school, he began umpiring with his father and works for his father's business.
Rebecca — An accounting major at the University of Hartford, she is — at just 24-years-old — the treasurer of the MVUA.
Rachel — As Rebecca's twin, Rachel majored in political science at Hartford and is a second-year law student at Massachusetts School of Law. She is specializing in sports and entertainment law.