Larry Grant graduated from Dexter and played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1968 and served until 1971. After getting out of the Navy, Grant married and moved to Roswell in 1972.
Grant took a job with the U.S. Postal Service where he worked for 30 years, retiring in 2005. He started umpiring in 1979 when a friend of his, Bob Shea, asked him to umpire two junior varsity baseball games. Grant said the game started at 5 p.m., they didn’t get done until 11:30 p.m. and he only made $20 for both games. He felt like the pay was too little for six hours of work. That’s when he went back to playing softball.
Grant reminisced about how good the Roswell Men’s Softball League used to be in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. He pitched and played every position except catcher. Grant thought the best player he ever played with and against was Steve Nunez, along with Ronnie Phillips, Elton Reese and a pitcher from El Paso. He remembers facing a team from Kansas when they played in the national tournament in Garland, Texas.
“I loved to play softball,” Grant said. “I played for 25 years. I used to think I was good, but I never made pro ball, so I wasn’t that good,” he said with a laugh. “I felt as though I was losing it as a ballplayer. I didn’t feel like I was contributing as I used to. So, it was time for me to hang it up.”
Once Grant retired from playing softball, he went back to umpiring. He enjoys it so much — because it keeps him in shape — that he has become an assignor here in Roswell for football, basketball and baseball.
Grant has become such an accomplished official, he has been chosen to work state games in softball seven times, including this year. He has worked state baseball one time. He has umpired a state championship game between Silver City and Cobre in 2016.
Grant noted that it is not easy to be chosen to make it as an umpire at state. Umpires are selected based on their performances and they have met certain criteria. They have to qualify and become state eligible.
The umpires have to attend so many meetings each year. The umpires must have so many games they have umpired in during the year, just to become state eligible. Finally, the umpire’s group leader has to recommend them.
Grant also recommended for baseball Jaime Lopez and Todd Wildermuth be selected as umpires for state this year.
Grant says that there is a shortage of officials, in fact, he says they’re begging for people.
“I’m telling you right now,” Grant said, “it is critical about our officials. We don’t have anybody. We have fans criticizing an official, but they don’t know what it takes sometimes to get somebody there to the game. That might be the last person we can get. Without us, they don’t have games.”
Grant is proud of the officials he works with and feels like they are good people. With the shortage of officials, the New Mexico Activities Association is constantly trying to recruit. He noted that he had six officials to take care of Roswell and Goddard high schools, including junior varsity and varsity. Plus, he was assigned to work all of the schools in Dexter and Artesia.
In baseball, he had nine umpires to take care of Dexter, New Mexico Military Institute, Roswell, Goddard and Gateway Christian schools. Grant worked 90 games from March through May. Officials have to work around their work schedules, families and other obligations. Grant feels like if he didn’t have such a good relationship with Britt Cooper and Artesia’s Cooper Henderson, it would have been impossible to have gotten the games in this year.
Grant noted officials earned $54 a game for varsity baseball and $47 for softball with raises forthcoming this year.
“It’s all about the kids getting to play ball,” Grant said. “You got to play ball when you were a kid; I got to play when I was young. You have to think about those things, these kids deserve the same opportunity. People complain, but you don’t see them out there helping us. I try to set an example for kids.”
Grant feels his best sports to work are baseball and softball. He thinks that Levi Hobson is one of the best umpires and credits Bill Rapp as one of his role models as an official. Rapp officiated for over 54 years before hanging his whistle up. Grant said the last game Rapp did, he was 82 years old and worked the game with him. Grant felt like Rapp was a mentor to him as an official and hopes to be as good of an official as Rapp was. One of Grant’s other highlights was when he was selected in 2008 when he worked the Eunice and Loving championship game in baseball at Isotopes Park.
“That was an experience working that game,” Grant said. “The grounds crew treated you and talked to you, it was a trip. What I remember at the high school level is that there are some great kids out there playing.”
Grant feels like one of the best football coaches that he has ever officiated was Artesia’s Cooper Henderson and thought he was in a class of his own. He felt that if Henderson said something to him or another official, the call was the official probably got it wrong. The one thing Grant liked about Henderson was he didn’t complain or make excuses when his teams were beaten.
Grant thought Goddard’s Sam Jernigan was a great coach as well. He was the reason that Jernigan cared about his players and that’s what made him successful. He also talked about the late Ralph Tasker, Roswell’s Britt Cooper and Hobbs’ Joe Carpenter as excellent coaches.
“I like being involved in the game,” Grant said. “I like being in the middle and knowing what’s going on instead of being on the sidelines and guessing. There are a lot of things the fans don’t see from the stands. I love being in the middle of everything and knowing what’s going on.”
Grant would like to continue to be an official as long as he is healthy, and can keep up. He also thinks the athletes are much better today than when he was in high school. He would like to get younger kids in high school to start umpiring, as well.
“I would like to be remembered as fair,” Grant said. “This game is not about the coaches or officials, it’s about the kids getting to play ball.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.