Foul balls, fumbles and free throws have become familiar territory for Jimmy Cofer over the past 55 years, and the longtime sports official's decades of faithfulness were in the spotlight Monday evening in SRP Park.
Jimmy Cofer Night, with the namesake and his wife, Janet, as the guests of honor, featured baseball action between Midland Valley and North Augusta high schools – a pair of wins for the Yellow Jackets.
Hundreds of well-wishers were part of the crowd, dropping by to share a socially distant greeting and sign baseballs or a banner to express thanks. Festivities were sponsored by the North Augusta Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
The evening's 80-year-old namesake threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and later, in an interview, shared some highlights, including plenty of laughter, from his decades behind home plates around South Carolina and Georgia.
"I called a college game," he said, recalling his first umpire experience, which was in Allendale County, with the University of South Carolina bagging a baseball win over Georgia Southern University, in baseball, on the USC Salkehatchie field.
"Really and truly, for the first three innings, I never saw the ball ... I was so glad they were swinging, but after I got about three innings, the mascot – the chicken mascot – came up behind me and took my mask, and I said, 'You go ahead and call the game. I ain't doing nothing with it,' so he fell out laughing; but after the third inning, I was the man then, and ever since then, I've been calling."
He also shared some thoughts on his approach to duty.
"I see everybody the same way. When I'm calling a game, I don't favor nobody ... I told them boys, if my mama runs down to first base and she's out, she's out," he said, admitting that he has no problem admitting those occasions when he "missed a pitch."
"I mean, that's the way I play. She'll tell you," he said, gesturing toward Janet, who has been his full-time teammate for the past 58 years. "I played it that way. I've been with her a long, long time."
His background includes plenty of time in a kid-friendly environment, as he is retired from the school system in Augusta-Richmond County, which he served as an assistant paint foreman. That was on the heels of a 25-year stretch of working at Clearwater Finishing Plant, where he arrived to work one day and found that the business had filed for bankruptcy.
The Cofers, who live in Monticello Estates, have one daughter, one son, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, "and they are just fun," Janet said.
Her husband, looking back at several decades on athletic fields, said, "The Lord blessed me. I'm in good shape. I went to the doctor today. The doctor said he sees no fault. I'm in good shape, so I'm blessed."
He said he has no plans to retire and has more games scheduled to officiate this week.
"Jimmy is a ball of energy, and he's always got a smile on his face," said Jeff Williams, a program coordinator in parks, recreation and tourism who helped set up Monday's gathering. "He's always got a positive attitude. He's always laughing and having a good time."
Kevin Lynn, the Jackets' head baseball coach, said Cofer is a familiar face.
"He's umpired several of my games, growing up, and refereed a lot of basketball games, too ... The man's been around. He's a legend."
The evening included a milestone for Lynn, as his varsity squad overcame a slow start and slammed Midland Valley by a 13-3 score, boosting the Jackets to an 8-5 overall record and a tally of 4-1 in Region 5-AAAA play, heading into a game at Midland Valley on Thursday. This was the 100th career in Lynn's career, also representing games at Aiken and Fox Creek high schools. He came on board at North Augusta for the 2020 season, which was cut short due to COVID-19 concerns.
Monday evening's action in SRP Park also included a junior-varsity contest that went in North Augusta's favor, 4-2, over the Mustangs.