Only once in Ronna Rosemond-Johnson's umpiring career has she felt so discouraged that she wanted to quit. As one of only a few female umpires in the South Bay, Rosemond-Johnson, 28, was making tough calls a couple of years ago that a coach didn't like.
"The guy started yelling at me in Spanish," she said. "I couldn't really understand what he was saying, but I knew that they weren't nice things."
After that night, Rosemond-Johnson vowed never to umpire again. "I'd just started, and I was doing the best I could, and this guy was making it impossible," she said. "It was just a nightmare.'
But she stuck it out. In the last two years, with the support and encouragement of members of the Los Angeles unit of the California Softball Officials Assn., most of them male, Rosemond-Johnson has become a well-known and respected umpire, officiating at softball and baseball games for local high schools and for Parks and Recreation Department leagues.
"I have a lot of support from the other umpires," she said. "They convinced me that quitting is not the answer. They told me that umpiring is about facing the challenges of the big mouths."
Now when Rosemond-Johnson officiates the team that nearly made her quit, "they love me," she said. "I've improved. I'm more consistent."
When the same coach makes comments in Spanish, "I still don't know what he's saying," she said, "but I assume it's something good."
Rosemond-Johnson, who lives in Lawndale, is among about half a dozen women in the Los Angeles unit of 60 umpires, said Garfield Finley, a Hawthorne resident who works for the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department and instructs aspiring umpires. "We've always looked for female officials," he said. "There just haven't been that many."
Few women work as umpires, Finley said, because historically few women have played organized baseball or softball. "Now we're getting more females into high school softball, so we're seeing more women umpires."
Rosemond-Johnson started her softball career at 7 when she joined a girls' sandlot league in Los Angeles. She remained in the girls' league until she switched to high school ball. While in school, she also played basketball and tennis.
"I'm the oldest of three kids, and the other two aren't athletic at all," she said. "Neither are my parents. But they were so supportive. They took me to all the games and practices, and they came to my games. They were there for me."
After playing softball for El Camino College, landing a job with the Gardena Parks and Recreation Department and marrying former Green Bay Packer Ken Johnson, Rosemond-Johnson became a free-lance umpire for softball and baseball games. She spent $45 on training and earns that much for each game she officiates.
"I love the sport so much," she said. "I like the authority, the quick thinking, using your judgment, being accurate, running around. I just love it."
At first, both male and female teams were surprised to see her. " 'A woman?' they said. I just smiled and said, 'Yeah, a woman,' and went on with the game. The men really like to flirt," she said. "They'll say, 'You're the cutest umpire I've ever seen.' " She paused. "It doesn't work."
Some games try her patience, especially when the crowd, the players or the coaches become unruly. Not long ago, when she was behind the plate, a batter threw his bat. It smashed into Rosemond-Johnson's head, knocking her unconscious. Though she went to the hospital, she refused to go in an ambulance. "I'm too tough for that," she said.
Perhaps her greatest asset is her ability to ignore screaming criticism. "I let it go in one ear and out the other," she said. "My focus is on the game."