Leilani Okuda will be one of 12 softball umpires at the Athens Olympics.

Okuda gets the call
to officiate Olympics

The McKinley High School
alumna will be doing softball
games at the Athens Olympics

This is the third in a series on people with local ties taking part in the Olympic Games in Greece. Tomorrow's story will be on Lindsey Berg.

Representing your country as an Olympian is no easy feat. Imagine trying to make a team that represents the world.

Hawaii Olympians


Sport: Softball (umpire).
Competition dates: Aug. 14-23
Birthdate: March 12, 1965
Birthplace: Honolulu
Residence: Honolulu
College: University of Hawaii
Tie to Hawaii: McKinley High alum 1983
Fun Fact: Okuda's roommate at the games will be Japanese umpire Haruhi Goto. The last time they worked a tournament, Goto traveled with an entire suitcase of food and Okuda joked that it was like being at a Marukai store.
Did you know?: Okuda's plane ticket was accidentally routed to Canadian umpire Leanna Pacini.

That's what McKinley High alum Leilani Okuda will be doing at the Athens Olympics. Okuda will be officiating softball's ultimate tournament when the games get under way on Aug. 13.

"I was really lucky," said Okuda, who has been officiating for 24 years. "I've been fortunate 'cause they're calling me back to do tournaments. I sort of thought maybe I'm the cheapest ticket (for the international tournaments in Asia and Australia).

"I'm fortunate enough to do the big one. This is the highest assignment an umpire can get. Your teammates are only 12 umpires. There's no real country behind you."

It is a role she never imagined having coming out of high school in 1983. Okuda started coaching and continued officiating after graduation. She stopped playing competitively in 1985 when she realized she was no longer a contender on the field.

"With umpiring you know that you're done as a player," Okuda said. "I've umpired since I was 15 years old. It was fun. I admire umpires. I always believed officials add life to the games."

No kidding.

A job done right and you're barely noticed. Make a call a coach disagrees with and you're cast as a villain, a destroyer of teams' dreams.

"You are as decisive as you can be," Okuda said. "Coaches think it's their right to dispute a call. We give them that courtesy. We are there to try to make the best call, the right call."

Making the right call is what got Okuda to the pinnacle of officiating. She is the first Olympic umpire from Hawaii and one of the rare few to be on the International Softball Federation's active roster. She was certified in 1996 and it wasn't an easy process.

It required being able to officiate at the highest amateur level, having the highest ratings in those games, a recommendation, passing a test and receiving the votes of your regional peers.

Okuda's first international tournament was the World Championships in 1998 in Japan. She got the call when South Africa could not provide an ISF sanctioned official for the tournament. A year later she worked the Asia Oceania Olympic qualifier in Taiwan. Okuda has officiated the U.S. Cup in Hawaii and two more international tournaments in 2002.

"I have to realize that if they didn't feel I was capable of calling all positions, I wouldn't get the call," she said. "I'm grateful they have that confidence in me.

"But really, I consider myself lucky. In the United States the number of international softball umpires are great. Some umpires have not been called to one international tournament."

Okuda didn't officiate with dreams of the five rings. Softball did not become an Olympic sport until 1996. But that doesn't mean Okuda isn't as dedicated as the athletes who compete.

Okuda believes that officials should spend as much time training as the athletes do. Since being named to the crew last October, she has spent countless hours preparing. Okuda works out at Gold's gym, meditates and studies the half-inch thick manual of international rules.

On the field, Okuda practices tracking pitches off a machine that spits out balls at the pace she expects to see from the world's elite. She has friends and other umpires catch for her and her players stand as batters while trying to perfect her game.

"Umpires need to practice, too," Okuda said. "You go to a game, you make a call, and it could cost a team a game. That's not to say if I practice seven times a week, I won't blow a call. But there's that preparation.

"It's been quite a journey for myself getting here. My goal when I get to Athens is I want to have a wonderful experience. I want to have the best games of my life. I want to work the best games."

Athens 2004 Olympics


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