2010 Scholarship Holders
Nicholas Foot - Australian Football
Nick Foot, Australian Rules Football
Despite being spat on by a player in 2008, budding AFL umpire Nick Foot was undeterred from pursuing a career in the sport he loves.
“It was probably the lowest point of my umpiring career,” the 22-year-old says. “It’s a very thankless role as it is being an Aussie Rules umpire. You definitely don’t expect that when you take the field anything to happen like that but the fact that it does is pretty ordinary.”
Nonetheless, the Hobart native says he goes back every week because he loves the sport. “I’ve got a lot of friends who [umpire]. It’s just like anyone playing in another football club. That’s my team essentially. I train every week with them and I love it.”
Just a year after the spitting incident, Foot had his highest point on the field to date when he umpired the state league grand final. “It was the first year of our rejuvenated state league,” Foot says. “It was the first time I’d really umpired with other people from around the state and to get recognised in the top three in the state was a really big highlight for me.” That same year Foot earned the Tasmanian Football Umpires Association (TFUA) Rising Star Award.
Foot first came to Aussie Rules as a young player. His father Kevin was a senior goal umpire in the Tasmanian State League and Foot began umpiring on the boundary when he was 13, later moving into field umpiring in modified games. In the end, he says umpiring just “won out”.
He combines his training with a full time job in Tasmania’s public service and says he has an understanding boss who gives him some work flexibility. “She’s also a pretty big football fan,” he laughs.
Since receiving an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship, Foot says he wants to concentrate on improving his fitness and decision making with the help of ASC experts. Ultimately, he wants to trial for the AFL.
“There’s no point not have a goal to make the AFL panel if you’re going to get this far,” he says.
Chris Patterson - Australian Football
Chris Pattinson, Australian Rules Football
Australian Rules umpire Chris Pattinson is motivated by the quest for perfection, even though he knows that ‘no umpire out there gets it right all the time’.
The 25-year-old Perth native is also aiming high, hoping to officiate at a Western Australian Football League (WAFL) grand final and then trial for the Australian Football League (AFL).
And he’s clear about why he loves elite umpiring. ‘It’s the idea of going into that [on-field] battle, being part of it, the challenge of it, all the physical things like the bouncing and the running and also the verbal communication with players,’ he says. ‘You are really involved and I feel you’re probably more respected than some other officials in other sports given that people do appreciate how difficult [umpiring] is.
Pattinson manages to combine his training requirements while working full time as an accountant and studying to become a chartered accountant. The accountancy work is relatively new, but football has been in his life since childhood.
Pattinson started out as a player and on the side began umpiring at the age of 13. By 17 he found himself ‘being a bit slow’ on the playing field and he chose to concentrate his energies on umpiring.
To date, he cites umpiring the 2009 WAFL preliminary final between Subiaco and the Swan Districts as a highlight, but he aims to mirror the rise of close WA umpiring mate Jeff Dalgleish who was appointed to the AFL senior umpiring ranks in 2009.
Pattinson is well on the way, having recently been rewarded with an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to help hone his skills.
‘I was pretty excited [about the scholarship],’ he says. ‘One of the guys I use to spur me along, Scott McPhee, did it last year. I gave him a call and he gave a raving review of his [scholarship] year.
‘I want to use the opportunity to look at nutrition which is an area I don’t focus on a log, and also maybe utilise the sports psych because there are aspects of my game later in the season where I was a bit mentally weak, so getting some strategies to deal with that would be great.’
James Ralston - Australian Football
James Ralston, Australian Rules Football
James Ralston has faced many challenges in his budding career as an Australian Rules umpire. Among the more interesting has been umpiring his younger brother Ian in a South Australian amateur league.
‘I’ve umpired him a couple of times which is fun,’ Ralston says. ‘To be honest, he actually gets treated more harshly from me. I know how he operates. I know when he’s going to be staging for a free kick. I know the way he plays.
‘As much as the opposition will think I’m favouring him, I’m not. I think I’ve umpired him maybe five or six times and he’s received one free kick from me. And everyone knew about it when I gave him that one free kick.’ Off the field though, Ralston says his brother asks questions and although he initially wondered why Ralston took up umpiring ‘he’s proud of what I’ve achieved so far’. And so he should be. Last year Ralston umpired the second semi-final between Central Districts and Sturt at AAMI stadium.
This year the 27-year-old has received an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to boost his career even further.
It’s a long way from umpiring on Sunday morning and then turning up to play with his junior club the Seaton Ramblers on Sunday afternoon.
Despite combining his umpiring and playing for a few years, Ralston suffered knee injuries and operations over two years kept him out of competition for six to ten weeks each of those years. ‘I figured I wasn’t going to make it professionally as a player and so thought I’m actually okay at this umpiring gig, let’s give this a go full time or more professionally and here I am,’ he says, adding that he’s never been disappointed with that choice.
‘I’m still part of the game, still an active participant, and umpiring suits my personality, I’m very outspoken and loud on the field. What I do is an essential part of the game, not as essential as the players, but still essential.’
He finished a sports management degree ‘a few years ago’ and currently works for Telstra and appreciates the flexibility that allows him to further his umpiring career.
‘AFL is obviously the ultimate,’ he says. ‘And after speaking to one or two people who have umpired an AFL grand final, you know, in front of 100,000 people and countless more watching on tv, obviously that would be the ultimate dream.’
Andrew Stephens - Australian Football
Andrew Stephens, Australian Rules Football
Australian Rules football umpire Andrew Stephens aspires to always ‘live in the moment’. So when the then-19-year-old took to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Grand Final Day in 2008 to umpire the final of the national under-16s competition, he wasn’t overawed.
‘I just love footy in general and I love running around and being part of the game ... it’s the best seat in the house,’ he says.
The Queensland-based umpire backed up that experience by being emergency umpire for last year’s Queensland state league grand final and it’s just another step on the umpiring pathway that began when he first started umpiring ‘for a bit of pocket money on the weekends’.
He was introduced to Aussie Rules by his primary school best mate who had relocated from Melbourne and encouraged him to play the sport. He started out playing for the Mayne Tigers but stopped when he was 16 to concentrate on umpiring. ‘I was shown the [umpiring] pathway and where it can take you and I was very excited by that and still am,’ he says.
Stephens recently learned he had received an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to help him move further along that pathway and says he couldn’t wait to get ‘stuck in and gain as much knowledge as I can and spend time with [officials] from different sports to see how they go about it’.
‘I’m also excited about the sport psychology side of things and being able to get some techniques to live in the moment when you’re out there in the game so that you’re focusing on the present, not the past or the future but that one moment in time.’
Outside the football field, Stephens seems capable of focussing on many things. He divides his time between umpire training, studying civil engineering at the University of Queensland and working part time for the Queensland Department of Main Roads as a student undergraduate engineer.
‘It’s pretty hectic and I don’t have a lot of time but I manage reasonably well,’ he says, I don’t get stressed about it. I’m always on the go, there’s always something going on but I do have downtime. I like listening to music and I like watching sport, any kind of sport but particularly footy which is downtime, I suppose.’
Kane Vellar - Australian Football
Kane Vellar, Australian Rules Football
Kane Vellar must be one of the few Australian Rules umpires around with groupies.
The Darwin-based 25-year-old has a part-time job as a house parent for Indigenous children from remote communities and they are never too far away in the crowd when Vellar officiates in Darwin.
‘The kids have come to respect umpiring because they can relate to the person doing it,’ Vellar says. ‘They see you walking off the ground in Darwin and they give you a cheer, which is unusual for umpires.'
Vellar also has a full-time job as an Assistant Director of the Aboriginals Benefit Account - Infrastructure Project with the Australian Government, a job that sees him work 50 to 60 hours a week. Somehow in amongst all that he fits in training and officiating in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) and when that season ends, backs up by umpiring in the Queensland State League.
All this is a long way from Cygnet, Tasmania where he first started playing Football as a nine-year-old. After progressing through the ranks and playing senior football, it wasn't long after that he was umpiring senior football after a neck injury. ‘Fortunately,‘having played the game has fast-tracked my progress to umpiring state league footy,’ he says.‘Initially, I was keen to give away the umpiring running around at the amateur level but as I progressed through the ranks it was a little easier psychologically, as I was respected as an ex-player umpiring.’ He says he now has had a number of opportunities come up through umpiring that he would never have thought possible.
‘Being able to officiate at the National Under-18 championships and have a run on the MCG, Telstra Dome and even travel to Ngiui oval to umpire the Tiwi Islands would not have otherwise have happened,' he says.
Among the opportunities is a recent Australian Sports Commission national officiating scholarship, which Vellar says he will ‘use the high performance coaching and knowledge to get the best out of my umpiring and work-life balance'.
Daniel Banik - Basketball
Daniel Banik, Basketball
Victoria’s Daniel Banik believes his greatest achievement in basketball refereeing is simply ‘continuing to turn up’.
After more than 15 years of refereeing and watching his peers fall by the wayside, Banik says he’s most proud of his persistence.
‘One of the things I’m proud of is that I haven’t given up. There have been lots of comprises not just for me but for the people around me because it does take a lot of commitment. Things like [refereeing] take time away from home and working on other things.’
The 33-year-old has been preparing for an National Basketball League (NBL) refereeing appointment for the past four years and hopes his Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship will provide the impetus to push him over the line.
‘I’m confident that I can turn [the scholarship] into something worthwhile not just for me but for others in the sport,’ he says.
Banik, who also co-founded and is a director of a busy digital marketing agency, manages to fit in all of his business and training commitments by concentrating on time management, negotiating and being a clear communicator.
‘I tend to get anxious if I’m not doing something. There are not too many times where I’ll spend a whole day ling on a couch doing nothing. There’s a lot of spare time to fill in if you really look for it.’ But he adds that he enjoys the returns he receives from the efforts. ‘I’m the type of person who will commit a lot of energy to what I’m working on. And, like most things in life, a balance between the samaritan or community effort and the personal benefit.’
Setting goals is an important key to Banik’s success. ‘I still have goals I want to achieve in basketball,’ he admits. ‘And as long as those goals are still possible, I will keep turning up and working hard for my sport.’
Tracey Vince - BMX
Tracey Vince, BMX
BMX official Tracey Vince thought her numbers had come up when she took a phone call at a casino in Queenstown New Zealand to learn that BMX Australia had nominated her for an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) National Officiating Scholarship.
‘I was jumping up and down and very excited,’ the 30-year-old recalls, adding that she hoped it would take her one step closer to becoming an Olympic official.
For Vince it would be the pinnacle of a long association with the sport she first became involved with as a rider at age seven at Capalaba in Queensland’s south.
In her teens Vince began coaching and officiating at a track in Wynnum while still pursuing her riding career. At the age of 19 she finished ninth at the world titles and retired from competition. She then chose to concentrate on officiating and since then has never looked back. She says she doesn’t miss the trophies, medallions or money she won as a rider.
‘As an official you get the verbal acknowledgement and certificates of appreciation which is very rewarding within itself,’ she says. ‘I love what I do and I get to meet so many different and interesting adults and children all over the country.’
Regardless of the level of competition with which she’s involved, Vince says she always endeavours to make sure the competitors are still having fun. ‘I’m at the gate so I get to start the races and my job is to make sure the riders abide by the rules and ride to the best of their ability while riding cleanly. I also want to make sure they’re still having fun even if they’re riding for money in top competition.’
Vince has recently applied to sit for BMX international officiating accreditation exams – an opportunity that comes around only once every four years. ‘That’s the first step before I can become an Olympic official,’ she says. ‘I don’t even know if there are women at that level and even if I’m not the first one, I’m going to be excited either way.’
There is a strict limit of 20 people who are accepted to enroll in the international course, with candidates from all over the world. ‘The opportunity has presented itself a lot quicker than I expected, however, I am confident I can apply myself to try my very best and I know that I will enjoy the learning experience during this course,’ Vince adds.
Ian Lock - Cricket
Ian Lock, Cricket
At 51, national cricket umpire Ian Lock is far from retiring. In fact the Perth-based umpire has taken up an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to hone his skills with a view of one day breaking into the international umpiring ranks.
‘I don’t have a huge number of years to break through into international umpiring,’ Lock says. ‘But on the other hand there are guys at the moment who have been promoted at the age of 56. I still sort of look at that as an incentive to keep pushing for the higher honors. If you don’t keep pushing you’ll find that your game will probably trail off and others will come and take your place at national level so I want to keep going at least another seven or eight years.’
The England-born Lock gave up playing cricket in his 20s to concentrate on playing rugby but when he moved to Australia reinvigorated his interest in cricket through umpiring.
‘It’s been a full part of my life since 1996 and given me a great deal of pleasure and some good times,” he says, naming his inaugural first class match over four days in 2001 as a highlight.
Paired with experienced umpire Darrell Hair, Lock says Hare had the ‘ability to put you at ease and fill you with confidence knowing that he was there with you’.
‘I’m now one of the senior statesmen of umpiring I just hope I can have that affect on people that I umpire with in their first game or second game.’
Lock is a full time physical education teacher at Hampton Senior High School yet he keeps his cricket past time ‘quiet’. Few students may be aware that Lock has been named the West Australia’s top cricket umpire seven times and three times been nominated for state official of the year. He says it’s something he wants to ‘try and back up’ every year.
‘Cricket’s a game of stats and I suppose you when you reach a more mature level in your umpiring you start to look at things like that you don’t look at them to start with but as they sort of creep up I may as well keep going.’
Jarred Gillett - Football
Jarred Gillett, Football
If 11 years as a football referee hadn’t confirmed Jarred Gillett’s passion for his career, then 10 days shadowing English Premier League referees earlier this year cemented it. The 23-year-old was one of six up-and-coming international referees hand-picked from the sport’s Project Future 2009 graduates.
Gillett’s Project Future adventure began in 2007 when he officiated at a tournament in Saba, Malaysia. He was chosen to attend a week-long selection course later that year in Kuala Lumpur where 40 budding referees from 26 different Asian nations had gathered. Gillett made the cut of 20 and went on to spend the next two years exposed to high level development opportunities aimed at preparing him for a possible jump into the national and international stage.
Gillett ranks the experience among his career highlights, second only behind refereeing last year’s Queensland state league grand final.
‘[The England trip] inspired me greatly,’ he says. ‘It was actually my second visit, but it’s still amazing to see the professionalism of the whole set up.’ Gillett also attended an Aston Villa v Manchester United match in front of 40,000 people. ‘It’s just non-stop singing and dancing and cheering and it’s pretty amazing to see how football’s a way of life for most people over there.’
Gillett first became involved in soccer as a child, playing the sport at Brisbane’s Mudgeeraba Soccer Club where his father Greg has long been involved as administrator and coach.
He began refereeing to earn ‘pocket money’ and started to referee at youth tournaments. Gillett says ‘the further I got into it the further I realised I was going to be a better referee than a player’. He stopped playing at 17 to concentrate on officiating umpiring, refereeing at state titles and talking to elite referees about the pathway in front of him.
That pathway has become even more concrete with the recent announcement that Gillett had earned an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to further develop his skills.
‘I really want to focus on what I’ve neglected up until now ... psychology and nutrition are aspects I just haven’t paid any attention to,’ he says.
Gillett is also completing a PhD in biomechanics with Griffith University looking at the muscular properties of young and old people and balance recovery associated with falls.
He unwinds by watching sport but says he inevitably finds himself analysing ‘movement and characteristics of officials and how they interact with the player’. ‘I think you can learn a lot that way as opposed to sitting there just watching a match and not worrying what the officials are doing.’
Elizabeth Shorter - Football
Elizabeth Shorter, Football
Soccer has already taken Elizabeth Shorter many places, but one day the 19-year-old hopes it might take her to upper echelons of officiating as an internationally accredited FIFA referee.
Shorter began playing the sport at the age of five with a club side in America while her family were based there for work. Two years later when the family moved to Malaysia, she continued to play.
When they relocated back to Australia and the NSW central coast, Shorter took a short break, but ended up back on the soccer pitch after a year.
At the age of 14 she took up refereeing as a way to earn ‘pocket money’ but admits that she ‘liked seeing the small kids having fun and running up to me and saying “did you see me, did you see me?”.’
These days Shorter not only continues to play and to work full-time at Central Coast Football, but to progress a refereeing career which is making some in the sport sit up and take notice.
She was recently awarded an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to help take her career further and she admits that the past two years have been a whirlwind.
‘Going to the nationals when I was 17 that was pretty much when [refereeing] took off for me and I realised how much more there was to it,’ she says. A year later she was selected to Football Federation Australia’s (FFA’s) W-League, refereed in the Premier Youth League and the Women’s Premier League and officiatied at the 2008 Women’s National Youth Championship. Last year she was nominated by the NSW Sports Federation for Young Official of the Year.
It’s a long way from her first two years of refereeing when she said she was ‘totally alone’ and unaware of any pathway in refereeing. ‘Then suddenly one of the Central Coast Football directors took me under his wing and started pushing me for to get better games and actually having linesmen with me. I didn’t have my first game with two linesmen until my third year of refereeing.’
Despite immersing herself in the game, Shorter admits she still has difficulty articulating to others why she enjoys refereeing so much.
‘I like the running in a non-fitness way. I love running around for a purpose,’ she says. But she also enjoys the intricacies of umpiring. ‘When I’m talking to friends they can’t understand how much more there is to refereeing, the angling, the positioning, the footwork and how high your arm is ... the finer details and when I do try and explain it, that’s when I get the odd funny look.’
Andrew Cordery - Gymnastics
Andrew Cordery, Gymnastics
As a gymnastics competitor, Andrew Cordery never quite made it on to teams travelling overseas to big international events. But now, as a gymnastics judge, things may be about to change.
The 27-year-old Queenslander has recently received an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to help boost his officiating skills and has become far more aware of the opportunities that await.
‘In 2008 a judge in Queensland went to the Beijing Olympics,’ he says. ‘ I never really considered it as a possibility but I never went as a competitor so there’s still an opportunity for me yet.’
He says the scholarship came as a surprise but he was pleased to see that officials are ‘cared for’. ‘You can go along pretty quietly without getting contact as an official, which you don’t really expect, but it’s nice to know there are people out there supporting you.’
Lean and lanky and standing over 6ft tall, Cordery says he doesn’t fit the ‘typical’ profile of a gymnast and sometimes surprises people when they learn he is involved in the sport.
Still, he says there is no one ‘type’ suited to judging gymnastics. Judges may be parents or people who simply have an enjoyment of the sport. ‘The beauty of it is that you can start from the most basic level. You don’t have to have been a great gymnast yourself. You just need to be able to understand the movements and understand how they can be corrected,’ he says.
Cordery studied teaching at university and now runs the gymnastics program at Brisbane Grammar School as well as a club for external members of the public. He coaches boys from age five right to senior competition.
He came to judging because it was a ‘pretty important part of any competitive gym’ and while he was competing with the Mitchelton Youth Club he was also encouraged to both coach and judge. Eventually judging won out.
‘It’s a chance to increase your knowledge to give back something to the sport. Yes, you get to go on some great trips but mostly I think I’ve got more than 15 years of gymnastics given to me and now I’m starting to give back on some of those years,’ he says.
Julie Bennett - Netball
Julie Bennett, Netball
Netball, as with many other sports, has dictated much of Julie Bennett’s life. It took her to boarding school as a teenager because living on a rural West Australian farming property didn’t complement her sporting ambitions.
It led her to become an official when she obviously had more talent for that role than as a player.
It has also seen her sandwich her busy training commitments as an umpire around her “demanding” job as an accountant.
And it has opened the door to international travel. Bennett sees these things only as a positive enhancement of her life.
‘I manage to balance everything,’ she says. ‘I do a lot of training before work so if I get held up at work and I have to stay back then I’ve trained for the day. I love doing what I do and I love umpiring and I love staying fit, so it’s easy for me to pick up and go for a run … it’s easy to do something I love.’
The 26-year-old does admit to occasional self doubt. ‘There have probably been times where I’ve said I’m going to throw in the towel but all it takes to keep me doing is to remember that I do it because I love it. You get to this level and you know it’s going to be hard and it’s going to be tough but my mentor is fantastic, my friends and my support network in the sport are fantastic.’
Bennett has recently been awarded an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to help her pursue her ambition to one day umpire at an international level.
She learned of the scholarship on her return from umpiring the six nations tournament in Singapore last year and says she was “over the moon”. ‘I was very, very excited. I’ve got some goals to attain by the end of the year, but I basically want to concentrate on each performance being consistent,’ she says.
‘To be selected on this scholarship is a massive achievement for me as I had an injury at the start of last year and to come back and be selected is just fantastic.’
Rebecca Dougall - Netball
Rebecca Dougall, Netball
When it comes to examining what motivated Rebecca Dougall to pursue an elite netball umpiring career, it appears that the weather had something to do with it.
‘I played up until a few years ago when I decided that I was only playing for fun,’ the 25-year-old says. ‘Then I realised I’d rather be only out there getting wet for an hour on Saturday afternoon [umpiring] than wet [playing] for two hours.’
She laughs, but the West Australian takes her umpiring very seriously and has done so ever since her first coach passed on her own whistle. ‘I suppose I started umpiring when I was young just to see what was really going on the other side of the court,’ she recalls. ‘I was maybe 14 and really nervous but my first coach gave me her whistle. I blew for a centre pass and blew for a goal and that was it.’
She continued to umpire local competition in Perth until discovering there was such a thing as state league. She says that was when she decided that there was much more of a pathway than she had realised.
‘I fell into umpiring and I love it, but now I love the challenge,’ she says. ‘I like that each game is different and there is always something that I can do better as an umpire.’
It has also taken her overseas, with a recent stint at the 2009 Netball Nations Cup in Singapore.
‘The skill level and the ability of the players was amazing. You’re also exposed to different styles of play where players take every opportunity to defend every pass and every ball. I loved the challenge,’ she says.
It was while at the tournament that Rebecca learned she would receive a 2010 Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship.
She will now combine her studies for a Bachelor of Commerce and her part time work in an accounting firm with an intense year of study, travel and access to experts as she also expands her netball umpiring career.
‘I want to concentrate on believing that I’m as good as the people around me believe I am,’ she says. ‘And I want to go to that next level.’
Robyn Gray - Netball
Robyn Gray, Netball
Robyn Gray had something of an epiphany last year when she had to decide between continuing to play, coach or umpire netball.
‘Last year I was trying to do everything,’ Gray recalls. ‘I was playing competitively, coaching a junior team, umpiring two nights a week and it was just too hard changing hats between coaching, playing and umpiring. So I just made the choice at the end of the year, which was a huge weight off my shoulders. I needed to umpire and I’m really enjoying it.’
Based in Drouin, country Victoria, Gray began umpiring at the age of 12. Mentors in the form of Sandra Hoskins and Steve Young helped her see there was a pathway available and by the time she reached state league in Melbourne she was ‘ready to take any opportunity thrown at her’.
So when a call came in 2008 to head down to Launceston and umpire the Australian National League, Gray had a few seconds of self-doubt but immediately shook that off to think of the opportunities that it would provide.
‘My goal is simply to improve on every game I umpire,’ she says. ‘I can’t control when and where I get selected but having my goal will allow me to progress and develop’.
She says umpiring is a constant learning experience. ‘You’re discovering more about the game, seeing what’s happening, understanding what’s going on and it gives you an element that you’re still part of the team even though you’re an official.’
The 27-year-old also holds down a full time job as a bank manager for an agricultural bank and says time management is an important tool in meeting her commitments but she has the added bonus of a supportive partner and family.
‘I work eight plus hours a day and travel forty minutes each way to work but that it my time to distress and/or debrief. I manage to fit in pilates in the morning and my strength and conditioning at night,’ she says.
Qalo Sukabula - Netball
Qalo Sukabula, Netball
Responding to a friend’s dare to umpire a local indoor netball competition in Warrnambool Victoria six years ago put Qalo Sukabula on a pathway he could scarcely have imagined.
He has gone from being someone who played the sport socially and had little knowledge of the rules to become an A badged umpire who last year umpired the Australian Netball League grand final.
Now the 38-year-old is the recipient of an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship that could well set him on a pathway to reaching his ultimate goal of umpiring internationally. He says he was emotional, elated and excited to receive news of the scholarship, adding that he wants to focus on the mentor-mentee relationship and working with top umpire coaches in the country.
‘They have such a wealth of talent that I want to tap into,’ he says. ‘I’m like a dry sponge. I want to soak everything up. I don’t want to die wondering. I want to give it the biggest go.’
Sukabula is also a medical practitioner who has recently become a medical administrator in Portland, Victoria. He was born in Fiji and studied for his medical degree in New Zealand before seeking career prospects in Australia and becoming a citizen. After a short time in Melbourne, he was drawn to rural Victoria.
‘In my other job as a doctor I come from an emergency medicine background which is in a way giving back to the community but being remunerated for it because that’s what you chose to do for a living,’ he says. ‘Netball is different. It’s a sport, it’s leisure it’s also enjoyment – not that I don’t enjoy my other job — but it is different. Coming into those communities in rural Australia sport is always the glue that holds those communities together and for me to participate in that and give back to the community is vital and I enjoy doing it.’
Sukabula says he has only once had a moment of soul searching. It came just over three years ago during the grand final of the Western Regional State League. During player warm ups a young netballer on one of the teams collapsed. Although Sukabula gave her appropriate medical aid, she died.
‘At a personal level the boundary between my work and my leisure crossed over and I couldn’t quite comprehend that for a while,’ he says. ‘There are always “what ifs” and it was incredibly stressful .’ With the community behind him, Sukabula continued to officiate in local competitions and he caught the attention of Netball Australia talent development squad directors. The fact that he is a man in a largely women’s sport does attract attention, but fails to faze him.
‘I never thought of it as being different ... never thought of myself as being the only male,’ he says. ‘As far as I’m concerned when I’m out there officiating I’m just another umpire it just so happens I’m male.’
Back in Fiji, few people know about Sukabula’s ‘double life’. ‘My Mum knows but I don’t think everybody else knows. It’s part of me but it’s not as if you come out and say “hey, I’m one of those guys who runs around in white shorts”, it’s just never come up.
Meanwhile Sukabula says although the umpiring may have started on a whim, it has had an enormous impact on his life. ‘For me to be able to umpire and do it properly I needed to change a few things around and one of those was to actually get fit,’ he says. ‘This is critically important to me and it’s helped me look at life in a completely different way from a health perspective and for that I will always be thankful that netball provided me that avenue.’
Caroline Schomberg - Rowing
Caroline Schomberg, Rowing
Water has played a big part in rowing official Caroline Schomberg’s sports career. She started out as a swimmer in high school. It was there that her swim coach suggested she take up an activity to keep fit in the winter time and directed her to Queensland’s Pine Rivers rowing club.
Gradually, rowing became Schomberg’s focus and she represented Queensland as a lightweight three times. In between she found herself officiating. ‘Rowing Queensland had an edict that two people from each club needed to become officials and I was one of the bunnies that go nominated along with another girl,’ she says. ‘I’ve been doing it now for 25 years. The other lady just disappeared.’ For the past 15 years, Schomberg has also acted as a hockey umpire. She was introduced to the sport by a rowing colleague who needed players at her local club.
But it is for her rowing officiating that Schomberg is gaining most notice. She has recently received an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to help her work towards an international rowing federation (FISA) license. ‘Passing the exam means having a vast amount of knowledge with respect to sponsorship, details for boats and crews and the way they run their regattas overseas,’ Schomberg says, adding that she hopes the scholarship will aid in her preparation.
Australia has only three accredited female FISA referees, a fact not lost on Schomberg. ‘Women in general in rowing I suppose aren’t in huge numbers but I suppose the more of us that are out there, the more that might be attracted to the next level,’ she says.
The 48-year-old combines her rowing (and hockey) commitments with a full-time job as a head laboratory scientist at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.
She says people do look at her strangely when she tells them they’re a rowing official, asking her exactly what it is she does. ‘I say, well you follow them down the course and make sure they don’t smash into each other. It sounds easy, but you still need to have a bit of training to prevent that from happening. There’s also starting, aligning, finishing, weighing of boats, weighing of athletes, weighing of coxswains ... knowing the basic rules of all those areas. It sounds easy but it’s the same as any sport. There are all the little intricacies involved.’
And she admits that sometimes the going is tough, ‘especially when you have to get out of bed at four in the morning and drive to a regatta’. Yet the benefits far outweigh the challenges: ‘when you get to see some really good races, and really close races and you understand why you’re there’.
Greg Smith - Rowing
Greg Smith, Rowing
Although he’s been involved in rowing officiating for 10 years, Greg Smith has never once rowed a boat. ‘I’ve rowed a dinghy, but I certainly haven’t been a rower,’ he laughs, ‘I’m not confident enough’.
Smith became involved in the sport when he was asked to help out as an official and later with his daughters Robin and Alison’s rowing club, Nepean Rowing Club at Penrith. The sport grew on him and he found himself taking on more and more responsibility.
‘[Rowing’s] been good to me,’ he says. ‘I enjoy it in a perverse sort of way. I actually enjoy being out there on a hot weekend and spending a whole day there. I like the people around rowing … they’re a good bunch.’
And although national regattas can see him working in his voluntary role seven days a week from ‘6 in the morning, until 6 o’clock at night’, the long days don’t deter him.
He says what keeps him coming back is ‘the company I keep, the rowers I know and the races that I watch’, adding that he enjoys a ‘better view of the sport than anyone else’.
The 53-year-old fits his umpiring duties around his work as a deputy principal at Erskine Park High School and sees many parallels between the two. ‘I deal with school age people in rowing all the time. I deal with parents all the time. I deal with a similar range of people,” he says. Of both roles, he says: “my job’s to improve their experience, not mine’.
He admits to experiencing some ‘bewilderment’ upon learning of receiving an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship to develop his umpiring career but says his focus will be on becoming an international official.
Ultimately though, Smith says his greatest achievement is being complimented by people involved in the sport on the work that he does. ‘I’m happy to have people say “that was well done today”,’ he says.
Clayton Sharpe - Rugby League
Clayton Sharpe, Rugby League
Even as a teenager, Clayton Sharpe had high aspirations for a career as a rugby league referee. So much so, that his email address from the age of 15 incorporated the name ‘goldwhistle’. Now 31, Sharpe even wears a white gold whistle charm around his neck and said he ‘couldn’t have silver because that represented number two, not number one’.
He started on the sidelines at the age of 12 when his best friend’s father Les McCosh held the mantle of central Queensland’s best referee and the young Sharpe was a ball boy, aspiring to emulate McCosh. Although he played for 10 years, his size worked against him and Sharpe began to concentrate on refereeing, moving through local competition then on to carnivals until he reached A grade.
He was told he would go no further unless he began refereeing in Brisbane where he could ‘train harder, become part of squads and referee better football’. He did so and has barely looked back, last year refereeing the final of the Queensland Cup between Northern Pride and Sunshine Coast. ‘I couldn’t believe that I would ever be there,’ he recalled. ‘To do that you feel “well, I’m number one in the state” to be chosen to do that at that time.’
But the call up didn’t come without a hiccup. The year before, Sharpe was overlooked for a finals appointment. ‘I suppose that gave me the hunger to want more. It was a 12 months process getting me there, so there was that extra satisfaction when I made it to the grand final.’
Sharpe said part of the attraction of refereeing is the feeling of being in control. ‘I like being the person that if a decision has to be made, I’m the one who makes it,’ he said. ‘Whether it’s right or wrong, I want to be that person.’
Learning that he had received an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship reinforced Sharpe’s view that 2010 would be the watershed year for his development, although he will have to balance it with running his family’s relatively new sports store business.
‘This year’s important to build for coming seasons and the scholarship is just going to be a benefit that I’ll have over my competition,’ he said.
Andrew Lees - Rugby
Andrew Lees, Rugby Union
If family history means anything, Andrew Lees is destined for a long career as a rugby union referee.
His mother Lee was completing a level one course in refereeing while pregnant with Lees and refereed for two seasons before he was born. His father Kim refereed for 30 years along with holding positions as ACT referee education officer and working for the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) as their referee education manager. Lees’ younger brother Richard is a country referee and his sister Keryn is a qualified touch judge.
With credentials like that, it’s unsurprising that Lees abandoned a playing career once he got to university and concentrated on refereeing.
And his refereeing career has already taken him overseas, controlling a final of the Hong Kong Sevens and the final of last year’s Rugby Sevens World Cup in Dubai.
‘Enjoyment is one of my biggest motivators,’ the 30-year-old says. ‘I tend to really enjoy being involved in the game, the challenge of it. I enjoy working hard to improve and get better at what I do and I think it’s a good fit with my personality.’
Lees has suspended his study for a Physical education teaching degree to take up a position as a scholarship referee working full time at the ARU for a year. This has been augmented by the recent announcement that he is to receive an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) national officiating scholarship.
He says his goal this year is to ‘perform well enough to get a Super 14 contract and get on the Super 14 panel for 2011 probably on the reserve list with some limited opportunities next year and build from there’.
Ultimately, he wants to make it to a World Cup. ‘There’s plenty of time [in my career],’ he says. ‘20 years or more, hopefully.’
Karyn Burgess - Swimming
Karyn Burgess, Swimming
As a swimming starter for almost 10 years, Karyn Burgess feels she has nailed the qualities essential for someone in her job—compassion, understanding, respect for individual ability, good people skills—and remembering to pack extra shoes when one pair gets wet.
The 43-year-old Tasmanian came to the sport when she arrived at her daughter Taylor’s first time trial at the Devonport City Swim Club to discover there was no-one available to start the race. She stepped up and has been starting swimmers ever since.
‘It was obligation at first as it was all about [Taylor] and the other kids and making sure that they had an opportunity,’ Burgess says. ‘But the more I got into it, the more I realised I enjoyed it for myself.’
Now, with much appreciated time off from her job as an Ulverstone-based medical receptionist, Burgess travels the country starting some of the biggest names in swimming.
Yet ask her who is in the pool at a given time, and she’d be hard-pressed to tell you. ‘It might be Hackett and Thorpe but at the end of the day they’re just people in lanes and it doesn’t mean anything. You might disqualify one of them but you never know who it is because it’s just the kid in lane six.’
She’s restricted to domestic competition until she can sit for her international FINA accreditation in a process that only occurs every few years. And although daughter Taylor has since stopped swimming, Burgess likes to tell her ‘you didn’t make it to the Olympics, but I’m going to’.
She may just be on her way having recently received an Australian Sports Commission national officiating scholarship to help her hone her skills.
But whether it’s getting swimmers into a pool in Hobart or one in London, Burgess says every race is the same.
It’s not get them on the block and let’s go,’ she says. ‘You’ve got to make sure that all 10 of them are ready to go, looking after each of their individual needs, being aware of what people do. Some people do things completely different to others on the block and you need to understand people’s time frames.’