Chicago's Julie Colwell Gets The Call To The Hall Of Fame

Mon. September 21, 2020 9:45 AM by Ross Forman

julie colwell to be honored

photo credit // provided

Longtime local softball umpire honored – virtually – by NAGAAA

Julie Colwell has been umpiring softball on and off for 40 years, including about 20 years at the Gay Softball World Series, run annually by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA).

It's been quite a memorable on-field journey for Colwell, 60, who lives in Lincolnwood and is a retired high school teacher (after 33 years). She's called balls and strikes for championship games, faced Mother Nature from the field, and met hundreds of softball friends across North America while barking 'Safe' and 'Out.'

She's had tears of joy through softball.

She's had tears of pain through softball.

“I always take pride as I walk onto a softball field. I want both teams to know (that) I'm going to do my best job for them,” Colwell said. “Having my uniform look crisp, my shoes shiny and a good coin-toss to start the game,” is important.

“Umpiring is one of my passions.”

Her skills are being honored – Colwell was inducted into the class of 2020 for the NAGAA Hall of Fame, though the pandemic forced the cancelation of this summer's Gay Softball World Series.

The 2021 NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series will be held August 29 through September 4 in Columbus, Ohio.

The 2019 NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series was record-setting, with 207 teams participating.

Colwell barked 'Play Ball' at the 2019 and plans to do so again in 2021, when she will celebrate her Hall of Fame honor, along with her girlfriend Maureen, family from Texas and, as she puts it, “with my umpiring family.”

Colwell learned she was being inducted into the Hall of Fame by good friend John Bauters, who lives in California and is the NAGAAA Umpire-in-Chief and fellow softball umpire – he also nominated her.

“(I am) very humbled to be included with such pioneer players, coaches and umpires,” she said. “It's nice to be recognized for my years as a player, coach, delegate, umpire and in the past, (as) Hall of Fame co-chair for the women's division.

“NAGAAA has so much history, softball and family moments. The Gay Softball World Series has grown to be a huge tournament.”

Colwell is slated to be an assistant umpire-in-chief at the 2021 Gay Softball World Series. 

Colwell's softball career started in fifth grade, when she joined a local team on the Army base while living in Germany. She played in high school and college, too.

Colwell played softball in the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA) from 1991-2000.

She also has umpired CMSA softball for decades – and is filled with pride to represent Chicago and CMSA at the Gay Softball World Series and in the Hall of Fame.

“Chicago has a deep history (in) gay softball and I'm proud to be a part of that,” she said.

Colwell made her World Series debut in 2000 in Toronto. She was, at the time, done playing and coaching, and wanted to take her umpiring to the next level. “I was very excited to get my first Gay Softball World Series assignments,” she said. “I had participated in seven World Series, but umpiring (was different). I must have bought five different umpire shirts to get ready. I was excited to learn from the veteran umpires from around the country.”

The 2006 World Series in Fort Lauderdale was one her most painful games ever, literally. She took a foul ball to the mouth, which ultimately needed 19 stitches. But, after a day off the field, she returned for the women's top-tiered A-Division Championship game – and she was umpired behind home plate.

“It was difficult to say, 'Foul Ball,' but we made it through,” Colwell said, laughing.

Colwell's World Series memory-bank also includes dealing with fire and smoke in Portland, missed hurricane weather in Tampa, rain delays in Austin and sunshine in Kansas City.

“Most of the players and teams (in the World Series) recognize me from previous (years), so they know what to expect,” Colwell said. “My play is to always be professional, hustle, know the rules and be a communicator, problem-solver.”

Colwell also was a World Series umpire in 2011, when the event was hosted by CMSA. “It was nice to showcase our city and suburbs … umpiring in the Chicago GSWS was a blast,” she said.

Colwell said she plans to continue umpiring as long as she's able to physically. And she's always learning about the sport and skill. Colwell said there are hundreds who have helped her over the years, such as Nancy Nomura, Tony Timmons, Stacy Stobo, Alex Alexander, John Bauters, Jeff Stewart, Kreg Harsha and the late Bobby Nicholson – himself a fellow inductee into the NAGAAA Hall of Fame from Chicago.

Colwell still officiates girls and boys high school volleyball. She officiated high school girls' basketball for 30 years.

“My favorite memories of past Gay Softball World Series revolve around friends – the players and fellow umpires who are there to have fun and support you. It really is like a family,” she said.
 

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