By Greg Gulas
For one area sports official, expecting the unexpected has been the norm and not the exception, resulting in a career path not even she could have envisioned during her formative years on the city’s West side.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Diane Martino has been a basketball, softball and baseball official for 34 years. She said a military career and officiating were the furthest vocation and avocation on her mind while attending Chaney High and Youngstown State University.
Addressing the Curbstone Coaches Monday, Martino said there isn’t a thing that she would change or have done differently.
“I wanted to play baseball in the Mill Creek Little League so I served as bat girl for several seasons for Holowach Sparkle Market and coach Monte Duncan Sr.,” Martino said. “When my time finally arrived to play, my mother, Betty, was dead set against me playing on a boys team.
“That was 1974 and since there were no softball leagues in the area for girls turning Little League age, my mom, Bill Sferra and several other parents helped start up the Mill Creek Jr. Softball League,” Martino said. “It’s a league that remains intact today and is still flourishing some 39 years later.”
It was Duncan’s influence, however, that led her to a career in officiating.
“I was 16 years old and had just gotten done playing in our league championship game when Monte showed up at my house,” Martino said. “He asked me if I had a powder blue shirt with buttons, navy blue slacks and black shoes.
“When I answered yes, he told me to show up at his house the following day at 4:30 p.m. and added don’t be late,” Martino said. “He took me to Oakland Field in order to help him umpire a Steel Valley Slo-Pitch game that night and that was the beginning of my umpiring days — a career path for which I have been forever indebted.”
While at Youngstown State, another career path was about to be paved and she owes it all to her time as a member of the Penguins’ softball team.
“We practiced back then in Beeghly Center since Stambaugh Stadium had yet to be completed,” Martino said. “When we finally moved over to Stambaugh my senior year, we would always run past the ROTC offices so one day, out of curiosity more than anything, I decided to stop in to find out exactly what the program was all about.
“I wanted to go to law school and while I never had a career as an attorney, I did have a very fulfilling, memorable 21-year military career,” Martino said.
Martino started officiating basketball in 1990 while stationed in Seoul, South Korea, continuing to hone her skill as an umpire where she was selected to work the 1991 Armed Forces Championship between the Marines and Air Force.
The added perk was that the game was to be played in Hawaii.
She was working in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2011.
“Had the plane not nosedived and hit just the E Wing, thousands of other lives would have been lost so the Lord was looking out for a lot of people that day, most especially me,” Martino said.
With more than 1,000 baseball and softball games already worked, Martino remains one of the busiest basketball officials in the area, having already worked 217 games in the past 12 months.
Her reward comes on March 15 as she has already been selected to referee this year’s Division IV girls state basketball semifinal game at Value-City Arena in Columbus,
It will be her fourth state tournament assignment, having already worked the 2010 and 2012 softball semifinals and the 2011 Division IV state girls basketball semifinals.
Martino is one of just a handful of distaff softball umpires and basketball referees from the area working both boys and girls scholastic basketball games.
“My hope is that more women will show an interest in becoming a referee or umpire because it really is a rewarding profession,” Martino said.