One On One: Six Decades and Counting, the Ageless Umpire

It seems like centuries ago just after World War II when he was 12 years old and pulling in a quarter share of the day’s catch working the dragging nets with his father John “Gouzie” Gaspa and his uncle Joe Captiva for whiting and scallops and haddock and cod aboard the Polaska and the Cormorant.

That world in his hometown Provincetown seems like lifetimes ago and for all intents and purposes, it was, even though the lure of the deep sea has never truly left his salty bones.

George Gaspa, 82, umpiring on Cape Cod since 1953. Sean Walsh/ Sports

George Gaspa, 82, umpiring on Cape Cod since 1953.
Sean Walsh/ Sports

Growing up at the Cape’s tip the youngest of six children borne to John Gaspa and his wife Margaret Mary Fitzgerald Gaspa, George was the only one of his siblings to enjoy the luxury of playing three sports at Provincetown High School – and he was the only one who would one day boast being a varsity letterman in football, basketball and baseball all four years he attended before receiving his diploma in 1952.

He would marry his high school sweetheart – Class of 1953 Provincetown cheerleader Elaine Ferreira – and that union, now in its seventh decade, would bear six children, 17 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

But what made Gaspa’s life take a turn that would change it forever was when his high school coach Dave Murphy asked him if he’d step in and help officiate a basketball game. That moment, Gaspa recalled, changed everything.

The year? 1953.

“You see, back then umpires and referees didn’t travel, there was no ‘association’. Teams had their own umpires,” Gaspa recalled.

This year — still going strong at age 82 – Gaspa continues to umpire high school varsity softball games, high school football games and youth basketball games. This is his 63rd year as a game official and it will mark the passing of his tenure through some five generations of Cape Cod athletes. He has personally known virtually every athletic director and team captain in most sports since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House and he still enjoys every pitch and every swing of the bat and every foul shot like the 17-year-old he once was, dribbling down court at the old Boston Garden in the 1951 Eastern Massachusetts state basketball championship against Chelmsford High.

Gaspa was an integral part of the true Golden Age of Provincetown High School basketball dominance just as much as he had grown up shredding his hands to haul in the ocean’s bounty to help put food on the Gaspa family’s table.

1953-1954 was a whirlwind, the still spry Octagenarian recalls. He married Elaine. He enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. He played in the Cape Cod Baseball League for the Falmouth All-Stars when the Cape League played at Falmouth Heights across from the old Casino.

And he officiated games every chance he could.

“You have to love the kids,” Gaspa said earlier this week. “You have to love what you’re doing.”

Gaspa served on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard for 21 years and three months. He worked for the Town of Falmouth from 5:00 am to 2:00 pm for another 20 years or so, setting it up so he could umpire or officiate games in the afternoons. He was honored last Thanksgiving Day at the Mashpee-Sandwich Thanksgiving Day Football game and presented with a jacket embroidered with his name and a special note: “George P. Gaspa, 60 years.”

Gaspa had the good fortune to go through US Coast Guard boot camp and then be offered an assignment no one else seemed to want: to work aboard “an 83-footer out of Nantucket.”

Home plate umpire George Gaspa, St. John Paul II head softball coach Mike Manley and Lions' catcher Hadley Tate go out to the mound to check on pitcher Jackie Smith who took a line drive off her pinky against Mashpee Wednesday. Sean Walsh/ Sports

Home plate umpire George Gaspa, St. John Paul II head softball coach Mike Manley and Lions’ catcher Hadley Tate go out to the mound to check on pitcher Jackie Smith who took a line drive off her pinky against Mashpee Wednesday.
Sean Walsh/ Sports

“I said I’ll take it! I’ve worked on fishing boats all my life,” he said. “And then I would referee football games for Nantucket because Provincetown played against them then and I knew all the guys.” Gaspa was stationed in Woods Hole, Race Point, Nantucket and truly never had to leave his beloved peninsula, thus affording him the opportunity to always schedule a game or two.

I asked him how he still handles coaches who argue or parents who can’t seem to control themselves at games at every level. In his usual calm and matter-of-fact manner, he answered.

“The hardest thing is to keep going when something like that happens,” he said. “So I just explain to them that’s the way I saw it, coach, you may have had a better angle, but that’s the way I saw it happen. The thing is you control it better if you just talk to them.”

Gaspa has refereed high school players who have gone on to lengthy coaching careers and have since retired and yet he has outlasted them all. He said he bumped into former Barnstable High hall of fame basketball coach Dick Graves recently at a game, and Graves retired from coaching in 1976. “He said, ‘you’re still at it, huh George?” with a shared laugh.

His knees bother him some. He said the pace of basketball is too much for him at the higher levels now, but his sense of perseverance isn’t the slightest bit disingenuous. It is ingrained in every fiber of who he is, rooted as deeply as the murkiest depths off the Grand Banks.

His parents – both immigrants – blended in him a boyish love for competition stirred with an anachronistic Cape Cod work ethic and salted by the sea that surrounds us. His father, who landed in Provincetown after immigrating to Boston from Portugal, taught George to work hard and that something would come from it, at first giving the boy a quarter share of a grown man’s wage, to a half share, to a full share by age 18.

Shaking the dust from his shoes as the sun set behind the backstop at Mashpee High School earlier this week, the final out called, Gaspa stood at home plate and removed his mask. His thick white hair waved gently in the crisp breeze as he shook each player’s hand as the girls from St. John Paul II and Mashpee filed past him, all appreciative of his diligence and demeanor.

A middle-aged woman loped over when the handshake line was done and gave Gaspa a big hug and asked if he remembered her from when she played softball years ago.

He hugged her back and laughed and flashed his patented, disarming smile, and pulled out a lollipop to hand to her saying “of course I do, dear, of course I remember you.”

— sports editor Sean Walsh’s column “One On One” appears here weekly. To email him, send to [email protected].

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