Bill DeCosta, whose name has been synonymous with officiating in Hillsborough County for more than two decades, has left the West Coast Umpires Association in a dispute that may have a long-term impact on high school sports in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
DeCosta, 60, said he has been an umpire and official for 25 years, and has worked as the umpires' association booking commissioner for 24 years. He also spent more than 20 years as the president of the association, and has been a longtime leader with the West Coast Officials Association, which provides football, basketball and wrestling officials.
DeCosta said discomfort created by new officials on the board of the umpires association prompted him to submit his resignation Thursday night. DeCosta was accused of wanting to start a new umpires association, but he said Friday he has not started a new group.
"There'll probably be some more resignations due to the board going in a direction that's not in the best interest of officials," said DeCosta, who called the dispute a power struggle. "Some of the senior officials are very displeased with what has transpired."
DeCosta said the impact of the resignations will be devastating because the departures will cut out the "heart of the association in regards to the best umpires."
However, WCUA president Ben Hugel said the group should continue to be successful without DeCosta.
"We have some very capable officials," Hugel said. "There may be some who don't return, but we don't see any major impact on our group. We have more than 100 officials."
Hugel added that two other officials groups in the area called Friday and expressed an interest in merging with his association. The splinter groups formed during the last 10 years while DeCosta was booking commissioner and president.
Hugel would not give specifics on why DeCosta was dismissed, but did confirm that DeCosta was "expelled from the association."
"Bill felt the status quo was fine, the board felt it was necessary to improve the ways we conduct business," Hugel said. "We wanted Bill to come to the table and work with us, but that did not happen."
The WCUA has a 45-year history in this area and at one point did college and high school games. But in recent years, its business had shifted to just high schools and some youth leagues in Pasco and Hillsborough.
This year, the group ran into trouble when Florida High School Activities Association fined it for using four officials who did not score the required minimum on the state test. As the booking commissioner, DeCosta was responsible for employing eligible officials.
DeCosta also has served as the booking commissioner for the West Coast Officials Association, but he stressed that this dispute only involves the umpires' association and he will continue to officiate football and basketball games.
He's uncertain, however, about his status as a baseball umpire.
"I probably will venture into another organization or retire completely," DeCosta said. "It was a tiring ordeal this year trying to maintain everything."