Joel Harthoorn of Sully is no stranger to the game of baseball. As a Lynnville-Sully and Central College student-athlete, Harthoorn spent many hours playing on fields across the state of Iowa. After his playing days were over, Harthoorn’s love of baseball led him to pursue a part-time career behind the plate as an umpire.
It’s the reputation Harthoorn has earned as a top umpire that led to a prestigious award and peer recognition on Saturday, Jan. 22. Harthoorn was recognized by fellow umpires and coaches as the state’s top high school umpire and received the 2021 Brent Prange Umpire of the Year Award at the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s annual clinic in Cedar Rapids.
Harthoorn was nominated for the District Umpire of the Year award by IHSBCA coaches at their end-of-season meetings. The nominated-member umpires were placed on a ballot for vote in the district by which they were nominated, and Harthoorn represented and was voted to win the Central District Umpire of the Year. Winners of the District Umpire of the Year Award were then eligible for the Brent Prange top high school umpire designation. Harthoorn was presented with the award on Saturday night.
The award is presented annually to an umpire who exhibits integrity and fairness with his actions on and off the field. The prestigious award was renamed in 2009 after Brent Prange, a well-known umpire with a distinguished career, and a baseball professional with whom Harthoorn is very familiar.
The award as top umpire in the state of Iowa is in itself meaningful, but even more so for Harthoorn who knows the story behind Brent Prange, and the man of character the award is named after.
“This award means a little bit to me, but means a lot about the people who have helped me,” explained Harthoorn. “My dad for showing me how to love something with all your effort. My mom for showing me how to love something that doesn't always treat you right. The coaches for giving me a chance to learn how to umpire because they could tell I cared to do it right. My umpiring partners for showing me how to be there for someone and give them your best every chance. My wife Liz who shows me that every moment in time is important, so you better give it your best. These are the things I think about, when I think about what this award means.”
The Brent Prange Umpire of the Year Award is especially meaningful because Harthoorn fondly remembers the baseball umpire the award is named after. Prange is one of three umpires Harthoorn can recall from his high school years of playing baseball, and he said it is “for good reasons.” Prange had a very distinguished career and was an educator of young people, both in the classroom and on the ball field. Prange passed away in 2002 of cancer. In addition to the prestigious award, Prange is remembered by baseball players and fans across the state at the Brent Prange Classic, a classic hosted by Saydel High School to honor the memory of a man who was “all about character and sportsman-ship,” according to The Brent Prange Classic website.
Harthoorn, who is also a middle school science teacher and assistant high school basketball coach, has officiated games in several sports at the junior high, high school, and collegiate levels. Baseball ranks as Harthoorn’s favorite sport to officiate, and he has experience as an umpire behind the plate and in the field at several Iowa high school state baseball tournament games. Last spring, Harthoorn was recognized by the Iowa High School Athletic Association for 15 years of service as a high school official.
Harthoorn and his wife Liz live in Sully with their five children.