Local veterans take on umpiring

Cannon Connections photo: Clarence Plank Billy McGinnis, left, and Larry Varnardo talk before the second game of a double-header between Portales and Dexter softball teams on April 27.

By Clarence Plank: PNT staff writer

A voice rings out over the crowd during a softball game in eastern New Mexico.

“You’re out!,” shouts the umpire as a throw from third finds the first baseman’s glove to record the out.

New Mexico Activities Association Official Billy McGinnis, 57, of Melrose made the call.

McGinnis and fellow veteran Larry Varnardo, 57, of Clovis have been calling games together for 15 years. They met in Clovis through the Clovis Umpire Association.

McGinnis said he got into being an official after he harassed a sergeant major at a game.

“He told me not to complain, if I wasn’t willing to help, then don’t argue,” McGinnis said. “I asked the sergeant major at the game when they were having their next meeting and I went just to tell the guy what he was doing wrong.”

McGinnis currently works as a groundskeeper for Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis.

“McGinnis really brings a lot of enthusiasm to the game and he is really on top of the rules,” Varnardo said. “He’s been calling the game for a long time and I think people like him.”

McGinnis retired as a master sergeant from the Marines Corps in 1991 after 21 years in the cryptologic intelligence community.

“The cryptologic community is a very diverse community,” McGinnis said. “It is filled with signal intelligence’s… for all the boys up in Washington, D.C. during the Desert Storm era. It was very, very exciting because we knew what was going to happen before it happened.”

McGinnis was involved in community service throughout his military career, working at the Young Men’s Christian Association youth league before his retirement. He coached youth squads for five years and spent 15 years as a volunteer firefighter in Melrose.

McGinnis said being an official and a veteran have much in common.

“It’s a camaraderie,” McGinnis said. “The other umpires are a group within themselves with the veterans in there. It adds a lot of good leadership, camaraderie and spirit because the veterans give back to the community.”

McGinnis said most sport official associations have veterans in them and the Clovis Officials Association has active duty military calling games as well.

“The military training helps you in stressful or compromising situation,” McGinnis said. “The military background means you don’t get intimidated. If someone gets out of line, your military training kicks in where you don’t back down, but you don’t overstep your bounds.”

McGinnis has some hearing loss due to his time in the rifle corps. He couldn’t let the coaches know he has a hearing problem because coaches don’t like to be ignored.

“I called a technical foul on one player during a basketball game for profanity,” He said. “The coach said ‘I thought you said you couldn’t hear.’ I told the coach he yelled it in my ear.”

The coach reprimanded the player out because of what he said to McGinnis.

He and Varnardo call basketball, football, baseball, softball and fast pitch games around eastern New Mexico.

Varnardo said in any sport, problems can arise and an official has to handle it in a professional manner.

“You have to know when to take charge,” Varnardo said about relying on his training to help him on the field. “You got people who are willing to work with you, but sometimes people get out of line or do the wrong thing. You’ve got to tell them what to do and how to do it.”

Varnardo said in the military there was a checklist that everyone followed and it is the same with officiating any sport.

During their military days, the duo actually played against each other before they knew each other.

“We were stationed at Homestead, Fla., together in 1975,” McGinnis said. “We actually played sports against each other. We just didn’t know each other because he was in the Air Force and I was in the Marines.”

Varnardo worked on aircraft during his time in the Air Force and retired as a master sergeant in 1997 after 24 years of service. He currently works with children as an in-school suspension supervisor for Clovis schools.

“I’m there to discipline them, but I’m there to let them know that I care about them also,” Varnardo said.

Varnardo started officiating in 1985, calling basketball and softball games.

“I like working with the kids,” Varnardo said when it comes to calling games. “It’s fun calling games and I enjoy doing it.”