June 20, 2016
Richard Pitts was 15 the first time he was asked to umpire a game.
He'd gone to watch a younger classmate play baseball just to find out the game was in jeopardy because only one official had shown up.
He asked Pitts to step in.
"He put me out on the base and showed me where to stand," Pitts said. "I must've done something right, because he asked me to come back for the next game."
Pitts readily agreed to the 25-cent-a-game payment.
"In 1955, a quarter was a lot of money," he said. "I could go get a haircut and a hot dog."
Recommended Stories For You
Pitts turned that 25-cent turn of luck into a storied career, known throughout Northern Nevada for his colorful presence as an official on the court and field.
At 77, Pitts continues to run his consulting business, despite a broken hip that sidelined him for five months last year — his longest hiatus in more than 60 years.
While some officials prefer to go relatively unnoticed, Pitts is often the center of attention.
Rather than merely calling a player out after being tagged in baseball, Pitts will yell out his call, along with the reason for the call, "Going by. On the butt! On the butt!"
Part of it, Pitts said, is just because he enjoys the game.
"I have fun when I'm out there," he said. "I have a good time."
While his antics can be entertaining, it isn't the primary reason for Pitts' spectacle.
He does it mostly for clarity.
"I'm loud so people understand what happened and understand what I say."
And it serves his deeper desire for fairness — a desire rooted in his early life growing up in a segregated San Antonio, Texas where he played sports at a Catholic school.
"The only reason we were allowed to play was because of the nuns," he said. "But we couldn't go to the state championships because they were at a white school and black kids couldn't go there. Even when I look at it now, I'm like, wow."
That fairness extends beyond just the players, he said. He also gives coaches a chance to make their case if they disagree with a call.
"You learn to talk to people. You learn to listen," he said. "Most guys want to throw coaches out of the game. I want to listen to you. In the end, I'll say, 'You're right, but you forgot to cross that T, dot that I.' I use my humor to get them to think correctly."
After high school, Pitts went on to play football and run track for Cal Western University. His plan was to become a teacher, but sports called.
He moved to Reno in 1975 where he raised four children and worked as the athletic director at Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.
The prison team competed against other teams from around the state. He also developed a program where he taught inmates to officiate.
As the owner of his own officiating business, Pitts referees games across Northern Nevada and trains other officiators, some who have gone on to do it professionally.
Still, of all of his acclaim, what he is most proud of is his reputation for equity.
"I feel I am equal and balanced," he said. "If you jumped the gun, you're going to get a foul called on you. If I'm handling it, it's going to be fair."