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2013 Scholarship Holders

Jeffrey Mann - AFL

When he saw his Australian-Rules-playing mates beginning to tower over him at the age of 15, Jeff Mann decided it was time to take up umpiring. He started officiating the under-10s at his local junior football club in Perth, encouraged by his father Daryle who thought he was motivated by the pocket money.

“Dad encouraged me and encouraged me and then when it got serious he said: ‘you’re not going to be an umpire are you?’”, Mann recalled. “I said yes, I really enjoy it. I love staying in the game and contributing and I think that when you get a sense you have some ability in whatever it is you want to see how far you can get. I guess that’s what’s driven me to get where I am today.”

Today Mann has just embarked on a 12-month Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship designed to propel him further up the umpiring ranks.

Yet he is the first to admit that his career to-date has been “stop-start”. In 2010 he abandoned umpiring and went back to playing football in the country town of Beverly, enjoying a premiership year. He said he was looking for “something” that he thought he was missing in the umpiring experience.

“In umpiring, you miss that feeling of being around a group of people with a collective aim or goal”. There is definitely a ‘team’ perspective in umpiring, everyone wants to umpire well and umpire a grand final, but it is very competitive and you are scrutinised a lot more than when you’re playing. You need to be acutely aware of your actions, even more so, on and off the field. I don’t regret the experience but what it did do is make me realise that umpiring was my passion, not playing, so I threw myself back into it.”

The break certainly motivated the 28-year-old. After several seasons in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) and a season in Melbourne, in December last year Mann re-located to Darwin to umpire the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) and the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL). He umpired the NTFL grand final and was awarded ABC Umpire of the Year.

And although he did recently consider moving back to Perth, the success of his relocation to Darwin has spilled over into other parts of his life, with Mann recently starting his own carpentry business and putting his singer/songwriter credentials on show at Darwin open mike nights.


Nic Saltmarsh - AFL

As a teenager, Ulvertsone’s Nic Saltmarsh was an avid Australian Rules player until he turned 16 and a pre-existing condition required him to have four operations on his jaw in 18 months. The surgeries ended his playing career, but Saltmarsh’s parents James and Diane persuaded him to take up umpiring and within a week of his first training, Saltmarsh was officiating at a match.

His umpiring career was progressing well for four years until a match between long-time rivals Clarence and Launceston at Windsor Park, Launceston where a 195cm, 100kg ruckman took physical exception to Saltmarsh breaking up a wrestling match.

“Being only 19 at that stage and still really only a kid I was very scared,” Saltmarsh recalled. “It made me think about whether I really wanted to be an umpire. I reckon it affected my performance for probably at least 18 months as I had a pretty poor season the year after, but I was lucky enough to come back strong last year.”

In fact, 2012 was a golden year for Saltmarsh. He umpired the under-16 national competition; the Tasmanian state league representative team against the Victorian Football League; his state league senior grand final; and then won North West Tasmania Umpire of the Year.

This year he has been rewarded with an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship to further his career and said he was “over the moon” with the news.

“I know a couple of other guys who have gone through it and they’ve spoken very highly of the program. I want to work on the psychology side of things as I think that’s really important to me, but also the recovery aspect and improving my nutrition. Really, it’s about everything coming together to make the whole package ... and that’s what you want to be as an umpire ... the whole package.”


Gavin Whitehouse - AFL

While Gavin Whitehouse said he has had “plenty of great experiences umpiring”, the one that stands out most is his very first year of officiating when he umpired a match between six and seven-year-olds at half-time in the 2006 AFL grand final.

“Just being out on the MCG on the last Saturday in September was unreal,” he said. “Watching these kids run around and seeing the crowd. I just wanted more.”

Like many umpires, Whitehouse took up officiating while playing the sport for the Maroubra Saints Football Club in Sydney and continued to combine both until he was in his final year of high school and realised he couldn’t continue to split his time that way and do well at school.

He chose to concentrate on umpiring, boosted by a conversation the year before when a mentor asked if he would be interested in umpiring senior football and if he was serious enough to be looking toward the AFL in five or 10 years’ time. “That’s the first time it really crossed my mind and I thought about the possibility of umpiring adults as such a young person,” Young said. “It really excited me and staying in football at that high level really interested me.”

Now Whitehouse’s umpiring career has received a further boost with the news he has won an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship. The news shocked Whitehouse. “I got the call from Steve Keating my coach in Sydney saying ‘can I get your shirt size?’ and he told me he’d nominated me for the scholarship and I’d been accepted. I was taken aback and within the space of two weeks I got all this information about the scholarship and my head was spinning.”

When he’s not training, the 19-year-old is studying dietetics at the University of Canberra, or following American basketball. Whitehouse’s parents moved to the United States when he finished high school and rather than take up an opportunity to study at university in Texas, Whitehouse chose to stay in Australia and pursue his umpiring dreams, a decision he said he does not regret.


Matthew Young - AFL

When he was 13 and playing for the Jindalee Jaguars Australian Rules Club in Brisbane’s south-west, Matt Young was introduced to a young umpire named Aaron Hall who had come to the club on behalf of Australian Football League Queensland to speak about the positives of taking up umpiring.

So motivating was Hall’s talk that Young decided to take it up … initially while he was playing, but later, exclusively.

In 2011 Aaron Hall went on to receive an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship and more recently was rookie listed to the AFL umpiring panel. This year Matt Young is the recipient of a 2013 National Officiating Scholarship and he hopes to continue emulating Hall’s career.

“In 2010 I was selected as a member of the AFL Queensland Umpires Youth Development Program run by Nick Palmer and Troy Friend, that was moment when I started to take umpiring seriously,” Young said. “They outlined the training and the workload required and identified the areas that I needed to focus on to improve and achieve my goal of umpiring at the next level, and it’s really paid off in the last couple of years.”

The 20-year-old said his goal for this year is to umpire at the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL) grand final, one step up from umpiring the reserves grand final in 2012.

“As a result of Cameron Nash’s appointment as the 2012 NEAFL umpires coach, my umpiring saw a major improvement last year. My aim for this year is to build on 2012 and utilise the knowledge gained from the high performance environment at the National Officiating Scholarship program.”

Young combines his training while studying part-time for a Bachelor of Business in accountancy and Queensland University of Technology and working with accounting firm Vincents Chartered Accountants. He said, “It’s a hectic workload at times but I’ve learnt to manage it knowing it is all worth it for that last day in September.”


Nikki Ireland - Basketball

The supportive strength of a ‘basketball family’ is what made Nikki Ireland stick with basketball refereeing despite off-court harassment from a team coach when she was just 16.

Now 23, Ireland said it came as a shock to receive the post-match abuse from “an older male coach” in an Adelaide competition, especially since her previous refereeing experience had mostly been limited to the friendly country league in Kadina.

“It was something I hadn’t dealt with before,” Ireland said. “York Valley is quiet and somewhere where everyone knows everybody, and then I moved to the Adelaide League where there’s a lot more at stake and you’re a stranger to everybody. [The abuse] didn’t put me off but it shook me up a bit.”

Ireland said it has been the only lowlight in a refereeing career that started when she was 11. Her mother Trudy was heavily involved in the local association and her father Michael was an umpire. Both Ireland and her sister Kelsey played and since it was association was always looking for umpires, she asked her father to train her.

Refereeing has since taken her all over the country and now she has become part of an elite development squad through the Australian Sports Commission’s National Officiating Scholarship.

Being a student is nothing new to Ireland. She has recently completed a degree in accounting, another in law and commerce, and is studying for her graduate diploma in legal practice.

But the opportunity to refine her refereeing skills has her particularly excited. “It wasn’t something that I imagined I would get,” she said. “I tend to take things a game at a time, so this is pretty amazing.”


Rebecca Keirs - Basketball

As a child overcoming multiple life-threatening allergies, Rebecca Keirs sought refuge in basketball. Initially it was playing, following older brother Ryan into the sport, but later Keirs found she was watching the referees and “wanted to have a go”.  Both of the Keirs children and their father Bruce all completed refereeing courses at Penrith basketball stadium and while Rebecca said it started out as a bit of fun, it quickly became one of the biggest things in her life.

For a child who wasn’t expected to survive beyond the age of five, and who was turned away from schools that would not risk teaching a child with such severe allergies, basketball became not only Keirs’ hobby but her major social outlet.

“When I eventually did go to school no-one wanted to talk to me because they were too scared if they touched me or went near me they’d make me sick,” she said. When her health had a breakthrough around the time that her brother was taking up the sport, “basketball became my everything. It was my place to go and meet up with friends and I’ve made some amazing friends along the way”.

A defining moment was an under-17 basketball camp that her brother attended in Gosford, watched by the whole family. With event organisers bemoaning the shortage of referees Keirs’ mother volunteered her then-12-year-old daughter.

Organisers watched her step up and from there her resume has continued to build as she based herself at Parramatta, travelling the country and refereeing championship games and development camps.

Now, with the news she has won an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship, Keirs has set her sights on the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL).

In the meantime, she will continue to hone her craft while working as a referee development officer for Castle Hill Basketball.

“I love it because I get to work with the young officials who remind me of me when I started out,” she said. “I really enjoy it because some kids don’t get the coaching they need and I hope to improve that.”


Damien Mealey - Cricket

For someone who oversees the work of more than 91,000 people in his day job as an executive manager with Queensland’s Department of Justice and Attorney–General, you could assume that Damien Mealey is well-skilled to manage just 13 on a cricket field.

But the 44-year-old umpire admitted there can still be the odd moment of self-doubt. “It doesn’t matter if you’re umpiring fifth grade, sixth grade or shield cricket, one of the worst moments is when you make a mistake, you realise you’ve made a mistake and the players realise you’ve made a mistake,” he said. “It can be hard to get back on track and get your mind focussed on the next ball that’s coming or the next period of play.”

Mealey played cricket regularly in the Brisbane area for 20 years but after taking a break from the sport at the age of 31, he started a cricket coaching business and then completed a cricket umpiring course to “add another string to my business bow”. He said at the time he wasn’t particularly interested in umpiring, and admitted that even as a player he “never really noticed” the umpires at his matches.

“Back when I was playing umpires kept a bit of a low profile.  Sure they’d have a beer and a chat at the end of the day’s play but as a player and even when I captained teams I never really had much involvement [with them]. I never really queried umpires decisions I just took it on face value that they were running the game.”

He noted that there is some irony in the fact that he has now been awarded a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship on the back of an evolving eight-year umpiring career that has included national age competitions, Queensland umpiring awards and his appointment last year to Cricket Australia’s national umpiring panel.

“When you get into the pathway that Cricket Australia offers you realise that they’ve made a big investment and that you wouldn’t be there if they didn’t think you were good enough,” Mealey said. “Once you get to that point and you can have that self belief, then that’s half the battle. You’re still going to have your moments when you make your mistakes and you self doubt but there’s a turning point in those moments now where you are able to move beyond it and think ‘yes, now I feel I truly belong at the elite level of umpiring’.”


Kelly Jones - Football

Big challenges don’t scare Kelly Jones. The 22-year-old is aiming to become the first woman referee of an A-League football game and if that means training longer and harder and studying more, then that, she said, is what she will do.

“I really enjoy refereeing the men,” Jones said. “The game is a lot faster and they have a lot more passion and I enjoy it a lot. I’m always training and trying to get fitter for these men’s games, but I enjoy that side of things. I run, I do Thai kickboxing and I swim but I’m always looking for things to mix up my fitness routine.”

Not that the Sydney-based official dislikes refereeing women’s matches.  At the end of 2012 she was centre referee for women’s W-League matches, her highest appointment so far. “They were really good games of good quality and it definitely made me hungry for more.”

Jones has been on a fast track since began refereeing at the age of 15, initially to broaden her playing skills by seeing how the game from a different side. Encouraged by her father Paul, who is also a referee, Jones started refereeing at Gladesville-Hornsby but within a year had been earmarked for an elite state development panel where assessors observed her every match.

Now she is set to be further scrutinised as a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient.

Learning of the scholarship, Jones said she was “surprised, excited and really committed”. She will continue to combine her training and match responsibilities, and her scholarship workshops with full-time work as an exhibition company graphic designer.

The frenetic pace doesn’t faze her. It is, after all, she said, the only way she will reach her ultimate goal of refereeing a World Cup or Olympic match.


Richard Schneider - Football

“Training” has two very different meanings for South Australia’s Rick Schneider.

There’s the training he advocates in his daily role with the Rural Doctors Workforce Agency encouraging country high school students into medicine and allied health and nursing.

Then there’s the training he undertakes as an up-and-coming football referee.

The two may seem worlds apart, but Schneider said there are many similarities. “A lot of the skills I have with soccer translate into dealing with kids … trying to steer them in the right direction. Time management is another one whether it’s organising conferences and events for work or preparing for and then managing a [soccer] game.”

Schneider started playing football as a child but while waiting around for his younger brother Thom to finish his game, he would run the line. That led to more refereeing and ultimately an official’s course.

In 2012 he was given an opportunity to shadow the English Premier League referees and to-date he has been fourth official in eight A-League games.

But his career nearly came to a halt while refereeing a semi-final of an amateur game when he was 23 and some irate spectators swarmed the pitch threatening him. He was escorted from the field by players who rallied around him—including some he had sent off during the match—and the police were called. Schneider said he was shaken up and refused to referee the league again because he feared for his, and other referees’ safety.

He said what made him continue to referee at all was support he got from the league who took his report “very, very seriously” along with the opportunities he was presented to further his career.

“Getting the call up for the A League panel last year was pretty exciting. Once you get there you just want more and more. Hopefully there’s more to come in A-League and then long term, if things go well, hopefully FIFA and then tournaments around the world.”

Luke Withell - Football

Withell loves to run and with his refereeing career on the rise, he was covering about 40–50kms a week when began to notice some leg pain. He continued running for another three or four months before tests revealed he had a stress fracture in his right leg.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Withell was starting to get involved at a national level, and refereeing some “exciting matches with some really good teams”.

“Mentally it was quite frustrating as I was out for both the national summer season and most of the local state league winter season,” he said. “It wasn’t a pleasant period, but it helped me focus and reaffirm my commitment to officiating. Of course I was concerned about missing out on opportunities—and I definitely did—but there are always more opportunities and you need to stay positive and think about the future.”

Withell started out playing soccer in Woden Valley as a 14-year-old. His father Peter encouraged Withell to sign up as a referee. It was a move that set him on an elite path and in the past few years he has managed to combine his training with studying for his bachelor of Software Engineering at the Australian National University.

Now, happily employed as a programmer with CEA and with his studies behind him, Withell hopes to concentrate even more on his refereeing career. Thanks to the support of his mentor, FIFA referee Ben Williams and FIFA assistant referee Allyson Flynn, Withell has been awarded a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship to help him progress his career.

“I was really excited to learn about [the NOS] because it’s a really great program and I’m really looking forward to getting the most out of it,” Withell said. “My short-term goal is to get a match on the national A League and longer term, to get a FIFA badge.”


David Grubits - Rowing

The parallels between David Grubits’ work life and his role as a rowing official are noteworthy.

As an environment and statutory compliance manager for AkzoNobel, the world’s largest paint company, Grubits is responsible for understanding regulations that impact on his employer and ensuring that the company stays on the right side of all its legal obligations.

As a rowing official, he must apply his understanding of the sport’s rules to ensure competitors on the water stay on the right side of those rules.

The 46-year-old Victorian said he had long held a desire to become involved in rowing, having grown up surrounded by the many Wendouree Ballarat Rowing Club medals and trophies won by his father, Josef.

“Dad gave [rowing] up before I was born but when I looked around the place at all his trophies, I thought ‘this is a sport I’d like to get into’,” Grubits said.

Yet rather than competing, it was officiating in which the younger Grubits was to excel. “There’s been a drive from me to progress to start off with as an umpire,” Grubits said.

“I’m not one to sit back and be comfortable. If there’s an opportunity to improve and progress, I like to grab that opportunity and run with it.”

That opportunity has definitely arisen with news that Grubits has been awarded a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to be involved with a whole group of other sports and get to suck the brains of and the experiences of everyone involved,” he said.


Brett Ralph - Rowing

Boats play a big part in Brett Ralph’s recreational life. When he’s not sailing his cruising yacht off Adelaide’s coast, the 47-year-old is on a catamaran, overseeing competitors on rowing courses around the South Australian capital.

Yet Ralph has never been an oarsman himself. When his children Daniel and Matthew both took up the sport, Ralph decided that he would rather spend his day on the water following the rowers, than seeing a small proportion of races on the banks.

He started at West Lakes rowing in Adelaide and over the years has become increasingly more involved with officiating men’s rowing including training other umpires at the state level.

With the news that he has been awarded a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship, Ralph said he hopes to move to the next level, gaining his international umpires badge.

And while he’s looking forward to the elite challenges ahead, Ralph said his greatest pleasure is still umpiring at local regattas where “young kids are having their first row”.

“There’s usually a look of terror on their faces and that increases when the umpire comes up to them in the boat, but you talk to them and say, ‘How are you going guys? First row?’, and when they say they’re scared, you just tell them to get to the other side, to get through the race. You watch them pass the finish line with that look of pleasure and relief and it’s just a wonderful thing.”


Michael Gordon - Rugby League

In another life Michael Gordon would be a singer or a race car driver ... a singer because he admires their talent and a race car driver for the sheer thrill of adrenalin.

In this life, Gordon gets his adrenalin rush from walking onto a rugby league pitch as an official, and such is his burgeoning talent that the 24-year-old has been awarded a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship.

“I was over the moon when I heard,” Gordon said. “I’ve just had a little baby boy, Connor with my partner Jessye so that just added to the good feeling around home.”

In his youth Gordon played league but was also an official for touch football in a regular Friday afternoon competition. When he realised he wasn’t going to “make it” playing league, he knew he already had the officiating skill set and turned his hand towards league refereeing.

The 24-year-old has recently debuted in the national youth competition and the Queensland Cup and with that has come the access to resources that have made him hungry for more.

“With Queensland Rugby League’s Academy technical reviews you’re able to watch your games on DVD and you’re miked, so you can listen to what you’re saying when you are in different situations and that helps you out in development.” he said.

It’s a long way from his second year of refereeing when, as a 15-year-old, he was chased by angry parents over an on-field decision and had to hide in a bush. “It didn’t deter me but made me hungrier to keep involved and do better for myself,” he said.

Long term he said he would like to become a National Rugby League referee, but admitted that “it’s a long pathway and it doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes a lot of work.”


Michael Laverty - Rugby League

Whether his experiences take him through the full spectrum of emotions, Canberra’s Michael Laverty said being a rugby league referee means always taking an opportunity to learn and to remember a mentor’s best advice to “never think you’re not good enough to succeed”.

At 33 Laverty may be one of the older referees breaking into elite ranks but he is not about to let that stop him.

“I tell people I’m 30 with a 10 per cent GST,” he said. “Because there’s a perception out there that if you don’t make first grade by 30 then you won’t make it but I feel like I have so much more to offer.”

Yet there are occasions where he still feels like the “country boy in the big city”, most recently when he refereed the curtain raiser for the State of Origin in Melbourne in 2012. “I’d never been to Etihad Stadium, in fact I’d never been to an indoor stadium before and although you don’t usually get a crowd for the curtain raiser, there were probably 15 to 20,000 people there and walking out on to the stadium standing there with the crowd excited and the buzz around the stadium ... it was just fantastic.”

He didn’t think that experience could be topped until he heard the teams singing their respective national anthems when the Australian and Great Britain school boys teams met for their Test at Canberra Stadium later that year. “I felt like I’d gone from the back blocks of nowhere to hearing people sing their national anthems ... it just made me realise I want to go as far as I can.”

That means overcoming the bad times too, he said. “The times when you know you’ve made an error and there’s a crowd watching and they know you’ve made an error. It’s one of the few negative things about refereeing and it’s a very isolated place when it happens, but through experience you learn from your mistakes and move forward.”

It’s with that positive attitude and self-belief that Laverty wants to take on the next 12 months and the news that he will receive an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship for 2013.

“I was pretty excited about [the scholarship] because you always think about the ‘one per centers’ who get to the top. When I found out about the scholarship program and all the resources that are now available to me, I’m excited to try and find that one per cent. I couldn’t quite find it by myself but hopefully with the support network around me I’ll be able to get that.”


Lawrence McDonnell - Rugby League

At 17 while running a touch line at a rugby league game in Mt Druitt, Sydney, a drunken crowd member jumped the fence and head butted Lawrence McDonell, breaking McDonell’s nose.

“At a young age that’s a pretty intimidating thing to happen,” McDonell said. “It didn’t put me off the game though. I had really good support from our local district and really good support from the police and my love of the game was always first so I moved on and continued to enjoy my refereeing.”

Perhaps it is his experience as a primary school teacher working with the Penrith Panthers and the Education Department full-time to help children with behavioural problems, but McDonell seems to see the best in most situations.

After breaking his arm while playing at the age of 12, McDonell maintained his involvement in the sport, helping train and coach his brother George’s team and volunteering to run the sidelines. This quickly turned to refereeing which he maintained through high school and most of his university years, progressing through the junior ranks to become graded with the NSW state squad in 2010.

On learning that he was to be a recipient of a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship, McDonell reflected upon his long pathway. “A lot of guys progress through the ranks fairly quickly but my pace has been a little bit more steady. It’s always nice to be recognised and have your achievements to be recognised. Someone’s had some faith in me to put my name forward. Last year was a good year for me. I won the NSW most improved official so things are starting to fall into place and it’s been really nice and I’m pretty happy with where I am at the moment.

“I haven’t been a person who has prioritised travel around the world but through rugby league I’ve been able to travel to Darwin, Fiji, Tonga and really interact with people from different parts of the world. It’s really great to see a side of the countries that you don’t really get to see when you’re being a tourist so one of the most valuable thing is the opportunities [refereeing] has given me to see parts of the world I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”


Zbigniew Przeklasa-Adamski - Rugby League

Extreme heat and extreme cold have handed Sydney’s Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski his two best experiences to-date as a rugby league official.

Two years ago he was standby referee and running the touch line in the Toyota Cup in the middle of a Canberra winter. It was so cold that the referee tore his hamstring 13 minutes into the 80-minute game and Przeklasa-Adamski suddenly found himself debuting in the Toyota Cup.

“The coaches were happy and I was happy with my performance and that kind of gave me a great opportunity that I wasn’t expecting at the time and from there on in I just really knuckled down and concentrated and tried to approach everything that I do now in relation to my football and training as a professional,” he said.

It wasn’t long before he had an experience to match it when he refereed the Papua New Guinea national rugby league grand final in Port Moresby at the end of 2012.

“It was the fiercest, hardest, quickest game in the most humid conditions I’ve ever refereed before,” Przeklasa-Adamski said. “It was also the biggest crowd I’ve ever refereed in front of, probably 25,000 people, and it was a great experience.”

In recognition of his burgeoning elite career Przeklasa-Adamski has been awarded an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship and the 26-year-old said he was “stoked”. “I was very excited and honoured to be nominated by my coaches in particular as I hold many referees in our squad in high esteem,” he said. “It was pretty humbling.”

Coming from a Polish background, Przeklasa-Adamski’s family expected he would gravitate toward soccer but his parents Jerry and Elizabeth happily drove him around for 10 years when he was playing and fully supported his move into refereeing in the Parramatta Districts at the age of 14.

He continued to surprise them when he finished an economics degree but went on to start up his own very successful landscaping business, having spent his university years labouring for a landscaper and “loving it”.

He said many of the skills he has learned from starting his business cross over onto the rugby pitch and vice versa. “You definitely learn how to manage people and get a feel for their emotions and it goes hand-in-hand with refereeing I guess, in dealing with people and being able to empathise but also sometimes put your foot down and blow the penalty when you have to.”


Edward Martin - Rugby Union

As a child, Sydney’s Edward Martin was his family’s official official. 

“I was always the one who was running around the backyard with a whistle if my siblings James and Felicity were playing,” he said.

Although he started out playing Australian Rules, Martin was encouraged by his father Simon to concentrate his efforts on refereeing rugby union, the sport he insists they “play in heaven”. That was 10 years ago and now Martin is in his second year on the Australian Rugby Union national panel for referees and last year refereed the final at the Sanix World Youth Rugby Tournament in Japan and an Oceania tournament in Samoa.

This year the 25-year-old has been named as an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient.

“I think it was a reward not only for the hard work I did with my referee coach John McCarthy in 2012, but also another opportunity to develop all the facets of what it requires to be a professional referee,” Martin said of the scholarship.

Among those facets is managing expectations, a skill which he said he practices regularly in his role as press secretary for a NSW parliamentary minister. “My day job is managing expectations of the media and that transfers quite nicely into managing expectations of players, fans and other officials, so there’s a direct link in my daily job with my passion in refereeing,’ he said.


Richard Goswell - Rugby Union

Perhaps it is the fact that Richard Goswell assesses and prices risk every day in his career as liability underwriter that makes him reluctant to risk missed opportunities in his recreational life.

Whatever his motivation, Goswell is energetically carving out an elite rugby union refereeing career and is prepared to take on “any and all opportunities for development”.

The 26-year-old has recently been awarded an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship to further his career and said he is excited by what lies ahead.

“We’ve had a couple of scholars go through from rugby union—one who is now refereeing super rugby in Andrew Lees—and a couple of others last year,” he said. “They’ve had great experiences and their feedback was nothing but positive, so to have an opportunity to gain similar learnings that they’ve had and obviously benefitted from is fantastic and very much an exciting thing for me.”

Goswell started refereeing in 1998 while in Year Seven at Sydney Church of England Grammar School. He completed his school’s refereeing badge and refereed school games including players from his own age group. He went on to complete his NSW referees badge and upon leaving school started refereeing senior rugby and has progressed through the grades. He made his first grade debut in 2010 and was appointed to the sport’s national officiating panel in 2012. It was also the year he took on his first super rugby appointment as assistant referee.

When he’s not working or training for his union appointments, Goswell is also a committed member of the Palm Beach Surf Lifesaving Club and as the Director of Training, applies his refereeing skill sets to his volunteer work with the club. “I coordinate and run a lot of the training sessions that we do for our new and current members such as Bronze Medallion and boat driving,” he said. “I joined [the club] in 2010 and it’s been fantastic. I regret not having done it earlier.”


John Hart - Swimming

In 1979 at the age of 19 as he neared the end of his competitive swimming days at Sydney’s Carss Park Swim Club legendary coach Dick Caine asked John Hart to pick up a cap gun, saying that they needed someone to start a race.

“Being a 19-year-old boy, what else do you want to do but grab that cap gun and start a race,” Hart said. “It was fantastic.”

The experience gave Hart the taste for officiating, and later in life when his daughter Natalie started swimming with Gosford Swimming Club he offered to help out starting or time keeping. “I’m not one who can sit on the side of the pool and not participate,” he said. “I like to be an active participant in anything I’m involved in.”

That passion also extends to the 52-year-old’s other sporting pursuits which include surfing and karate. He holds a Third Dan black belt and teaches the martial art.

But it’s the news that he has won a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship to hone his swimming officiating that has captured Hart’s focus this year.

“I was over the moon when I heard and really excited by the opportunity,” he said. “Here’s something I’m really passionate about and I can go and learn and fine tune my skills and have an opportunity to further improve my study of the sport, and to promote the club and the state.”

Hart said it capped off a busy two years, in which the highlight was officiating at the 2011 Australian National Shortcourse Championships in Adelaide’s new Marion Swim Centre. “I was refereeing the women’s events and it was my first televised meet,” he recalled. “The positive energy and vibe of doing that can’t be described, but it’s something I really want to experience again.”


Damian Van de Berg - Swimming

Volunteering has long been a part of Damian Van de Berg’s life. Whether it is with the Country Fire Authority, community fundraisers or his children’s school, Van de Berg said volunteering has been and continues to be part of his ‘contribution to the community’.

In the past 10 years a large chunk of that contribution has been devoted to Victoria’s swimming community. Initially it was with helping on administration matters at his children Samantha, Amy and Thomas’s swim club at Cobram Barooga on the Victorian and New South Wales border. That soon evolved into an officiating role, and more recently into a position as a Swimming Victoria Board member.

But it is for his officiating work that Van de Berg has been recognised with a 2013 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship.

“I’m the first person from my state in the sport to get the scholarship so I’m really proud of that,” Van de Berg said. “I’m hungry for advice and support that will help me progress. It’s what I’ve been after to help me move to that next level.”

The 50-year-old started his officiating career at club level in Cobram Barooga on the Victorian and New South Wales border when his children Samantha, Amy and Thomas became involved in the sport. Initially Van de Berg was involved in administration, but he clearly remembers his first time-keeping role in Melbourne.

“I remember going out onto the pool deck and thinking, ‘wow, what a great place to watch. I don’t know why more people don’t get onto it’,” Van de Berg recalled.

The thrill was no less when he worked at his first national event, the 2008 Australian Swimming Championships in Sydney, which also doubled as the Australian trials for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games squad.

Since then Van de Berg has expanded his experience to include open water swimming, having been appointed to referee at national championships since 2011 and referee on the international stage at the 2012 Oceania Swimming Championships.

“I’m proud of progressing from [officiating] at a small country town in country Victoria to the national and international stage as a technical official,” he said.

“My goal is to go to an international meet like the Olympics as open water chief referee. That to me would be the defining moment.”

Van de Berg said he hopes that the news he has recently been awarded an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship will assist in his quest.


Robert Leak - Tennis

Robert Leak came to tennis umpiring via a trip to South America, a border uprising and a nerve-settling nap.

After leaving a naval career in 2008, Leak was travelling through through Chile when Australia was playing a Davis Cup tie in the country. Having been a long-time tennis fan and social player, Leak attended the tie and was “the only Australian supporter there” but encouraged a mini-multicultural fan club which cheered the Aussies on, although they eventually succumbed 3-2.

Leak said tennis must have still been on his mind a month later while travelling through Peru when cocoa growers, protesting against forced eradication of their crops, blocked the country’s borders. He tried to flee by booking a flight from Arequipa, his fear of being trapped far outweighing his fear of flying. Taking a pre-flight nap, he said he dreamed of joining the Davis Cup team and awoke with a strong sense that he was destined to be involved in tennis, if not as a player, then in another capacity. After finding an internet cafe, he researched umpiring, contacted Tennis Officials NSW and returned to Australia to undertake some training.

Leak said the timing was such that he was then able to officiate at the Sydney International tournament in 2009 and “everything flowed from there”. Since then he has gone on to officiate at a number of tournaments, including the Australian Open Boys’ Final in Melbourne in 2013. “That was a big thrill,” he said. “It was fortunate that two Australian boys were in it so Australia was interested in it which meant TV was interested, so they decided to do part of the match live. To do a live match in my own country, well, that would be a thrill for anyone.”

The 32-year-old Surfers Paradise resident will spend the next 12 months working on his umpiring skills as an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient, saying that the scholarship was a “pleasant surprise”. “I was hoping I would be someone who might be accepted and it’s made me quite excited the more I’ve looked at it and certainly now I’m starting to see what it offers,” he said.

Patrick Nugent - Tennis

For Pat Nugent, transitioning from ball boy to tennis linesman meant better pay and less running around on court.

It has also offered him opportunities to travel the country and enjoy major tournaments including this year’s Australian Open men’s final where he made the top 40 officials squad from the 350 officials servicing the tournament.

The 23-year- old was quite a solid tennis player in his own right after starting out as a 10-year-old encouraged by his father, David who “loves tennis”. Although Nugent realised that he wasn’t destined to make it as a professional player, his father encouraged him to become a ball boy at the Sydney International tournament and it was there that Nugent decided he wanted to “get paid for working the tennis”.

He started umpiring in Sydney’s south where he gained some experience and was elevated to the Sydney International tournament as an umpire in 2008.

“The number of tournaments has snowballed ever since,” Nugent said. Despite completing a degree in sports journalism in 2011, Nugent said that because of his tennis commitments, he hadn’t had much time to practice his writing craft. “Initially I would only pick up a couple of tournaments every year, but now I’m pretty much travelling all year round on the circuit.”

He hopes one day to umpire all four grand slams as a line umpire, and to chair umpire a main draw Australian Open match on Rod Laver Area. But in the short term he wants to concentrate on gaining as much as he can from his recently announced Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship and gaining international certification to help him reach his long-term goals.

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