Those who saw Tuesday's television broadcast of a baseball game between the Cubs and Rockies should have noticed native son Todd Tichenor behind the plate.

Tichenor, a 1995 graduate of Garden City High School, has moved up through the ranks of professional umpiring to become a regular on the Major League Baseball scene.

Tichenor's duty Tuesday had to be a bit more interesting because of a special guest: retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, O'Connor was charged with delivering the game ball that night in Chicago. Before the game, she was shown handing the ball to Tichenor and sharing words of wisdom with the umpiring crew.

"I told them to try to be absolutely fair," O'Connor later said in an interview during the game.

During the interview, O'Connor also expressed her disappointment in many Americans' troubling lack of understanding of how government works.

She cited a survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center that showed only one-third of Americans surveyed could name the three branches of government, while two-thirds could name at least one American Idol judge.

Other findings in the survey revealed many Americans did not know the difference between the roles of judges, who are to be impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice, and that of legislators, the people elected to represent their constituents' interests.

Seventy-seven percent of Americans surveyed said that, to some extent, state judges should represent the views of the people of their state.

Clearly, the nation has work to do in better understanding government and civics, the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

O'Connor knows improvement must begin in our schools, and has been busy working with a program designed to enhance the education students receive.

Our Courts is a Web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in their government. The program, featuring free lesson plans, interactive modules and games, is available at

The resource for grades six through eight the age in which it becomes easier to grasp the complexity of rules and why we have them has proven a useful tool for students.

As adults, they'll need to understand and engage in government, from questioning how their tax dollars are spent to becoming informed voters on Election Day.

But any interest in issues of the day would go for naught if they don't know how government works or how to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens in a democracy.

O'Connor's promotion of stepped-up civics lessons may have seemed out of place at a baseball game.

But in a way, she was in her element. Much like umpires or officials in other sports, judges must call 'em as they see 'em, according to the facts and law, and without regard for who is favored or has the home field advantage.

The Supreme Court, too, is like an official in our system of government, left to determine when someone steps outside boundaries set by the Constitution.

As for the game itself and the umpiring Tuesday night as well as O'Connor's reminder to Tichenor and crew to be fair no one had cause to cry foul in the 6-2 Cubs win.

Perhaps O'Connor picked an appropriate setting for her pitch, after all.

E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at