Since 1980, without fully realizing it, Donny Armstrong has been teaching Petaluma children about the importance of teamwork, loyalty and respect.
In fact, he seems a bit humbled and taken aback when these contributions are mentioned, because they have been made during the course of performing his passion ? Little League baseball umpiring. And for these contributions, Armstrong will receive the Service to Youth prize at the 2008 Petaluma Community Recognition Awards event on April 11 at the Sheraton Petaluma Hotel.
?If you watch Donny in action, you see an umpire who recognizes that he is able to make an impact on these kids both on and off the field. As an umpire, he is able to help mold these kids,? said Elece Hempel, community resource director for Petaluma People Services Center, who nominated Armstrong for the award.
?I like being around kids, because it makes me feel young. It?s great to see a kid get his first hit or make a nice play. Being able to help them develop is an added bonus,? he said.
Armstrong was born in Southern California, and moved to Petaluma with his family in 1953. He began playing Little League Baseball in the early 1960s.
?But I wasn?t very good. I later became an umpire because it?s something that I can do,? he said.
Armstrong, a cashier at Lutz Chevron, has umpired in all three local Little Leagues ? Petaluma American Little League, Petaluma National Little League and Petaluma Valley Little League ? and for all age levels. He also sponsors a team, Donny?s Dodgers, in the 7- and 8-year-old division in each league. More than 950 children have played for his teams.
He has become a very popular umpire in each circuit, largely because of the genuine interest he shows in each player.
?Before a game, I talk about sportsmanship with the team captains, and they go back and talk about it with other players on their teams.,? Armstrong said. ?And I try to treat all kids with respect, and teach them that if they show respect, they will feel respected.?
He is known for comforting youth who have had a bad game.
?If I see kids who are having a hard time, I tell them, ?Hey, even Barry Bonds has bad games,? he said.
Many children he meets as Little Leaguers later come back to visit him ? and some follow in his umpiring footsteps.
?Some are umpiring In Petaluma right now,? he said.
And Armstrong plans to continue working beside them.
?I?ll umpire as long as they let me on the field ? for another 10 to 15 years, I hope,? he said.
He views umpiring as one among many ways of contributing to the community.
?I think everyone should volunteer for something. People sometimes don?t realize the rewards they can get from it. The kids sure have done a lot for me,? he said.
(Contact Dan Johnson at email@example.com)