Conwayite Warren Sessions doesn’t mind having to make the tough calls.
Sessions, who has served as a baseball and softball umpire for more than four decades, has no plans to slow down at the current time.
“As long as my health and mental capacity hold up, I want to keep at it,” he said. “My wife said they’ll probably have to bury you at first base or home plate. I said when I get to the point I can’t do it any more I’ll be man enough to say I can’t do it and step away.”
Sessions grew up in Conway and competed in recreation league baseball until he was a teenager. He ran several distance events for the Conway High School track team, specializing in the two-mile run. It was former Conway City Councilman and umpire J.C. Bennett who encouraged Sessions to consider calling games.
“I started doing rec ball in 1975 when I was 16 to make summer money,” he said. “J.C. Bennett said you need to umpire. That’s when it started. You couldn’t be certified to call high school games until you were 18.”
Sessions was certified in 1978 and this is his 40th year as a S.C. High School League umpire. He vividly recalls working his first high school game with Bennett, who was not only his mentor, but also a very good friend.
“My first game was Hemingway and Britton’s Neck at the old Britton’s Neck field,” he said. “The bench they sat on, if you fell off of it, you fell in the highway.”
Sessions has called thousands of games since. In addition to high school baseball, he has called recreation league baseball and softball games, USSSA games, traveling ball, American Legion and college games.
“If they call me and I’m available, I go,” he said. “I did 10 or 12 years of college ball. When I went to Coastal, they got me involved in umpiring college games. Baseball is my first love.”
Sessions has worked four South Carolina North-South All-star Games, as well as the state finals in all classifications.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any one that stands out, but when you walk on the field and there’s 1,100 people at the state finals, it gets you pumped up,” he said. “I’ve met some kids who went on to play pro baseball,” he said. “I’ve met some kids who went on to play professional baseball including Mookie Wilson’s nephew at Bamberg Ehrhardt and Kirt Manwaring at Coastal. I remember Timmy Whittaker (current Horry American Legion Post 111 head coach who played for the University of South Carolina and in the Minor Leagues) when he played high school and American Legion Baseball.”
Sessions considered becoming a Major League umpire early in his career.
“I went to Pro Umpire’s School in Florida in 1980,” he said. “That was an experience. It was like boot camp for six weeks. They took the first 24 and I was 26th. I was only 21 and not yet wet behind the ears. They told me to come back, but I didn’t. I fell in love and that took care of that.”
Sessions and his wife Maryann have three sons and one granddaughter. In addition to umpiring, he drives a special needs bus for Horry County Schools. He has a special needs son, and serves as both a coach and driver for Special Olympics. Sessions also worked at Pepsi Cola Bottling Company for 16 years, umpiring games after a tough day at work. He also worked with Horry County Schools. His family has always been very supportive.
“In the early years my wife went with me,” Sessions said. “She knows it’s my love and she’s supported me 100 percent. Sometimes during the offseason she’ll say do you have any games coming up. I enjoy the offseason, but I get the itch. As long as I have the itch, I’ll keep doing it.”
According to the Conwayite, umpiring season runs from the end of February through the first week of December. Weekends off are rare.
Sessions has met many wonderful people through the years. He’s also encountered a few coaches and fans who overstepped their bounds.
“I’ve had situations where people approached me at the car and I had to get ugly,” he said. “You have to know the rules and you have to be able to take criticism because you’re going to get it.
“I asked a coach one time if he saw nail prints in my hand. He said no and I said that means I’m not perfect. If I was you’d persecute me like they did Jesus who was the only perfect man.”
Sessions has been known to admit mistakes if he thought it was warranted.
“I’m my own worst critic,” he said. “If I feel like I didn’t call it right or messed up, I beat myself up on the way home. I’ve even admitted to some of it.”
Consistency is Sessions’ top goal for every game he umpires.
“I don’t say it’s a hobby,” he said. “I work at it. You have to be a people person. I’ve never had broken bones, I’ve had a couple of concussions, but nothing major.”
When he’s not working or umpiring, Sessions enjoys playing golf.
“I’m not that good at it, but I like to get fresh air,” he said.
Sessions often plays by himself, but likes to compete against a brother-in-law who lives in Syracuse, N.Y., whenever the two get together.
Sessions is also a big fan of the New York Yankees, but rarely finds time to watch a full game.
“I started watching the Yankees when Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in the World Series,” he said.