BECKER, Minn — By tradition, umpires are an anonymous bunch. But anonymity is not part of the act for a cheerleading, backflipping, crowd-pleasing, Minnesota girls softball ump known as Blue Lou.
“As long as the kids have fun, hey, I’d do 100 backflips,” Louis Williams, Blue Lou’s alter ego, says.
At the recent 10-and-under state girls softball tournament in Becker, Williams led pregame cheers from both dugouts. Then, he kept the back and forth going from behind home plate as he called balls and strikes.
“Way to take one for the team, even though you want to scream,” Louis chanted as he pointed a girl toward first base after she was hit by a pitch.
“The kids love him,” Becker parent Amanda Martell says. “Honestly, there’s kids when they’re not playing, they’re coming over and watching him.”
Kids come to watch, and parents stand at the fence with their phone cameras hoisted, when Williams backflips down the first base line at the conclusion of each game.
Before play even started in Becker, a mom and a group of girls pleaded with a tournament official to reassign Williams to their game.
“Please, please, please,” the girls unsuccessfully begged.
“They walk in and they’re like, ‘I hope we get the fun ump today,’" Martell says.
The oldest of five children raised by a single mom in Milwaukee, Williams came to Minnesota to play football at St. Cloud State University.
“I had like a year and a half left of school; they cut the team because of budget issues,” Williams says.
Rather than leave St. Cloud, Williams stayed to finish his engineering degree. Now 24, he works as a manufacturing engineering technician at Tire Service International in Monticello, while umpiring evenings and weekends.
Once a play-it-straight ump, Williams started upping his game when a young player challenged him to come up with a more creative strike call.
Soon, Williams’ strike three calls were accompanied by a mock roll of a bowling ball, a spin in a circle, or the skyward mime of a bow and arrow.
“All the parents and stuff loved it and it made the game more interesting for the kids and the parents watching it,” Williams concluded.
Before each game, Williams calls all the players from both teams to the pitcher’s mound. Holding hands, the girls encircle the ump as he leads them in a cheer. Before sending the girls back to their dugouts, Williams does a backflip in the middle of the circle.
“Some of these kids — it’s so stressful on the field — and when they’re out there with him, they just have fun,” Sara Westing, a parent from New Prague, says.
Williams says he’s continually looking for ways to make his games more entertaining.
“Last year around this time, I read a book; it’s called ‘The Compound Effect,’” Williams says. “And the book basically was talking about, if you’ve got a talent, put it on display for the world to see.”
On another field in the Becker complex, Jeff Kellerman umpires with a more traditional approach.
“He sets a high standard for the rest of us umpires,” Kellerman says with a laugh. “These 10-year-old girls asked me, ‘Are you going to do flips for us?’ I go, ‘No!’”
The longtime ump has no issues with his younger colleagues’ high-energy approach.
“This is all about fun, education, learning opportunities, kids growing up," Kellerman says. “It’s perfect. He’s great for the sport.”
Between games, girls crowd around Williams to autograph their bats, balls and batting helmets.
“I love the energy he brings. It helps all of us stay positive,” says Josh Cleveland, coach of the Richfield 10U team.
In the years they play, the girls will encounter plenty of umpires they won't long remember – and one they will never forget.
“My philosophy is just to, whoever I’m around, to just have a positive impact on their life,” Williams says.
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