The News (New Glasgow)
Making a difference
Umpire Richard Pettipas focuses on positives after battling cancer twice
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – Softball has been a big part of Richard Pettipas’ life, and the popular and respected umpire has a simple motivation to return to the field after battling cancer.
“The softball community has been gracious to me while I’ve been away, and that just makes me want to come back and continue to umpire even more,” said Pettipas, describing that support as “heartwarming.”
Pettipas, who has been a fixture on P.E.I. diamonds since the early 1990s, sat down with SaltWire for an interview at Queen Elizabeth Park in Summerside during the recent Summerside Showdown tournament, which attracted 50 female teams in A and AA divisions in the under-13, under-15 and under-17 age categories.
Pettipas moved to P.E.I. in 1992 and played softball for two years. He began umpiring in 1994 after realizing there was a need for umpires.
Since then, he hasn’t looked back and has called action for close to 30 years at all levels from under-12 to senior men. But what has endeared Pettipas to players, coaches and parents is his willingness to make experiences on the field enjoyable and memorable.
“Richard is the guy that keeps his composure, and it trickles onto the field and allows the kids to have a good time no matter what,” said Dave Campbell, chair of the Summerside Showdown tournament and past president of Softball P.E.I. “I would have no issue going to a ball field, getting on a microphone, introducing him and playing a song and he would dance up the line. There is not enough Richards.
“It’s very unfortunate that he’s battled so much for a guy who has done so much. He’s been a huge fixture in softball for so many decades, and it’s always a pleasure to have him around and part of these events.”
Pettipas was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer in 2015. He underwent chemotherapy for 11 months and had a stem-cell transplant.
“My own cells were taken out of my body that were cancer-free and transplanted,” said Pettipas, who is retired after a 30-year teaching career that included working at the elementary, intermediate and senior high levels. “They told me I would have possibly 10 years that I would be in remission.”
The same cancer returned in the summer of 2022. Pettipas went through treatments and had another stem-cell transplant.
“I’m now in remission, and each day I feel I’m getting stronger and stronger, and I hope to get back umpiring before the summer is over,” said Pettipas. “Who knows what the future holds.”
In 2023, Pettipas has umpired one school game but is looking forward to getting back on the field soon. He said he will start off working single games before getting into doubleheaders.
“I live day to day and I’m thankful for the many blessings I have and the opportunity to umpire softball across the Island. I know my cancer is always going to be with me, but it’s not going to define who I am or change who I am.
“It’s a disease I have to live with, deal with and move forward. That is what I plan to do.”
This year marked the fifth Summerside Showdown tournament, and Pettipas has been involved in organizing each year and umpiring in the first four.
Although he was unable to umpire this year, Pettipas made sure to check out the action at Queen Elizabeth Park on July 21 before leaving the province for a family reunion.
Campbell said Pettipas’ fingerprints are all over this tournament.
“After the first year, I had a parent send me a video and it was Richard cutting up the dance floor in their dugout,” said Campbell. “That resonated with them, and they wanted to come back. They loved that the atmosphere was fun.
“You want to compete, give it your all and go for the win, but at the same time, at the end of the day, these kids signed up to play this game for some fun and Richard brings that.”
Pettipas also did more than just call balls, strikes and outs during the tournament. He also spent a lot of time mentoring young umpires when he was not working games. That included watching from the stands and, in some instances, going on the field with the up-and-coming officials.
“If things get heated, he’s the one who cools it down; he’s the voice of reason,” said Campbell. “He’s just a good mentor for those young kids who are trying to learn and become the next Richards.
“He’s a salt of the earth. I have nothing but good to say about Richard Pettitpas.”
As a Level 4 umpire, Pettipas is qualified to work internationally and has worked six Softball Canada national championships, 14 slo-pitch national championships and five national championships with National Softball Athletics.
“Without a doubt, I am the only Maritime umpire taken off the field in an ambulance at three national championships,” said Pettipas with a smile. “I’ve been knocked out behind the plate with foul-tip balls. That adds to the experience, believe it or not.”
Pettipas said family support has been a big part of his softball career. He and his wife, Vicki, have lived in Slemon Park since arriving in P.E.I.
Richard and Vicki grew up in Stellarton and started dating in Grade 9. At the end of July, the couple will mark 45 years together and 35 years of marriage.
The couple has three grown children: Joshua, 32; Benjamin, 31, and Marissa, 29. Growing up, Marissa played softball at the competitive level in Summerside, and Richard had many experiences umpiring his daughter’s games.
“She was a fiery competitor, just like her mother was a great softball player,” said Richard. “There were many occasions when I had to call our daughter out, and she wasn’t too impressed with dad, Mr. Ump.
“When we got home, she had an awful scowl on her face. But that’s all part of it, too.”
To illustrate Pettipas’ passion for umpiring, he acknowledged his goal was to achieve Level 5 – the highest certification possible. Level 5s are eligible to work the Olympics.
“Now with my cancer, I realize that is probably not in the books because, in all honesty, I think I have lost a bit mentally,” said Pettipas. “To be at that level, I would have to be bang-on sharp and I wouldn’t chance getting to that point and being in a situation where I didn’t have an answer.”
Pettipas is happy to have the opportunity to return to the fields in P.E.I. and continue working towards raising the level of officiating.
Asked what advice he would offer to anyone going through serious health issues, Pettipas said don’t be afraid to reach out to people who may have gone through something similar and look for help.
“There are people out there who can be a support (system),” said Pettipas. “Never give up.
“I think when people hear the C word their bodies and minds shut down. Mine never has, and it never will. Have faith, believe and never give up.”