2011 Scholarship Holders

David Armstrong - Australian Football

David Armstrong’s Australian Rules umpiring career started out simply so the then-13-year-old could miss a lesson at his Palmerston High School in Darwin.

‘An announcement was made at school if people would volunteer to come down and see the sports teacher to go and help out umpiring the under-10s Auskick competition,’ he said. ‘Me and a whole bunch of my mates went down and I was the only one who actually ended up umpiring a game out of it.’

Although he also played the game, just two years later Armstrong had progressed his umpiring from Auskick matches, to under-14 and then under-16 competition and playing was fading into the background. The real selling point came when local umpires arranged for him to attend a match in Melbourne at the Telstra Dome and he blew the whistle for half-time at the match. ‘I thought that was pretty good and I kept umpiring from there and stopped playing,’ he said.

However the 20-year-old said his rise through the umpiring ranks was not without its challenges. ‘I started umpiring seniors when I was 15 or 16 and it was hard to umpire my friends or even as I moved up at one stage I was umpiring my teacher. But you just get out there and do what you’re supposed to do.’

Armstrong was fortunate to have some high profile mentors along the way. AFL field umpire Simon Meredith met Armstrong during an AFL roadshow to Darwin and they have continued to strengthen that mentoring relationship.

Armstrong also credits his father Bill with supporting his ambitions. ‘Dad actually got sick of taking me to training and so he started goal umpiring and he really enjoyed it he took it quite seriously in the end,’ he said. ‘In 2009 we were going through the [Northern Territory Football League] season and he was in the goals and I was in the field and it just happened to be that we were both picked for the senior grand final at the end of the year.’

Among other highlights that same year was the NTFL Grand Final and Tiwi Island Grand Final which was broadcast live. ‘I’ve done that now a couple of times and the whole day is just full on, it’s so great, everyone comes out to see [the match],’ he said.

Armstrong is about to enter a new phase in his umpiring career with the recent announcement he has received an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship.

‘I’ve never really been exposed to [the areas] that are involved in the scholarship,’ he said. ‘I was fairly excited to get it and I’m really interested in the nutrition and fitness side of things. That’s a goal of mine this year to improve on my fitness and gain a bit of knowledge.’

Meanwhile, Armstrong has also recently relocated to Brisbane where he has started studying a degree in biotechnology at University of Queensland. He’s not yet sure how he will manage to juggle his training and study commitments. ‘So far, so good, it’s only day three,’ he laughed. ‘I’d just like to establish myself in Brisbane over the next few years and then go from there.’

Nathan Elsworthy - Australian Football

As a 14-year-old, Australian Rules Football umpire Nathan Elsworthy was threatened with death by a player who he had ordered from the field.

While it dissuaded Elsworthy from umpiring ‘for a few years’, it is testament to his character that the now 23-year-old is one of the sport’s emerging elite officials.

At the time of the incident, Elsworthy was umpiring a youth game at Killarney Vale, New South Wales (NSW) with his father, Alan. The player concerned had committed multiple infractions throughout the game, and Elsworthy made the decision to send the player off.

‘He came over and said “it’s not rugby league” then I repeated that he’d need to leave the field and while one of his team mates tried to get him to leave, he said “I’ll see you in the carpark” and then kept going on with more threats until two or three of his team mates dragged him off,’ Elsworthy recalled.

Later, at the tribunal examining the incident, Elsworthy sat unaccompanied by any representatives from the umpiring association and endured three-and-a-half hours of grilling from the player’s advocate. ‘I was in there sweating and going bright red and it kind of felt like I had done the wrong thing the way I was being treated.’

Ultimately, the player concerned was suspended from the sport and Elsworthy chose to focus on playing the sport instead of umpiring.

With the support of his father, and mother, Gail, Elsworthy eventually did get back into umpiring, balancing playing First Grade in Newcastle’s Black Diamond competition with his burgeoning umpiring career.

Last year was the first year since he was six-years-old that Elsworthy hadn’t played the sport and it signaled his intention to make it to top as an official.

‘I want to get to the elite AFL panel and for the last couple of years that’s been a goal of mine,’ Elsworthy said. ‘I’ve been told I’ve got the potential so I’m going to work as hard as I can to get there.’

He juggles travelling to Sydney for umpire training with studying for a PhD in exercise and sports science at the University of Newcastle and has recently received a boost, learning that he is to be receive an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship to aid his professional development.

‘This year I’d like to get on the panel for the new state league starting in NSW and I’ve been advised I’ve already passed the fitness test, so I’m going to focus on that,’ Elsworthy said. He said he hoped it would lead to a trial with the AFL in the ‘next couple of years’ and added that for the time being, he was just enjoying what lay ahead.

‘With umpiring I love working outside. I’ve never wanted to work in an office building, so being outside in the sun and on the footy field … it’s part of my life, so it’s the best of both worlds.’


Aaron Hall - Australian Football

Among the major changes that moving into elite Australian Rules umpiring has had on his life, Aaron Hall said watching his father Tony change his opinion of umpires had been ‘significant’.

‘I suppose most parents get a little bit defensive [on behalf] of their children and it’s been interesting seeing him go from having somewhat “traditionalist” view towards umpires to being converted somewhat,’ Hall said.

The Gold Coast-based 24-year-old added that a love of the sport was well entrenched in the family with his great grandfather Clarrie playing for the Richmond Tigers/Victoria but Hall ruled out a playing career early discovering that he didn’t have the same level of talent.

‘I did the Duke of Edinburgh Award at school and had to do a skill with a fitness base, so I played football and wasn’t overly good at it,’ he said. ‘But I started umpiring at 15 and made it to the regional, state and then national levels.

‘It was around the time of the Brisbane Lions premierships so it was a really exciting period for AFL in Queensland.’

Such has been Hall’s enthusiasm for the sport that he now even works for the Australian Football League (AFL) in Queensland but he said that by far his biggest career highlight to date was an emergency umpire role at the Australian Football League (AFL) Queensland State League Grand Final last year.

‘It was a fantastic, incredible experience,’ he said. ‘It was a very close game and it was remarkable because late in the game the clouds rolled in, the lights were turned on and the atmosphere was electric.’

It left Hall hungry for more and that’s now looking more promising with a recent announcement that he has become an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient for 2011.

Hall said he was excited by the news. ‘It seems that in the last few years my career has been moving upward at an exponential scale. I look on it as a great opportunity to really grow and tap into some great resources and meet some great people. I really want to work on my core strength, fitness and overall knowledge of the rules. At the AFL stage your weaknesses become exposed so I’m working to decrease the difference between my best and worst performances … so that my worst is quite good and my best is much better.’

Ben Lehner - Australian Football

Being accidentally knocked down by players is an occupational hazard that Australian Rules Football umpire Ben Lehner has come to accept, but it does go against the grain for the Hobart-native whose role outside his sport is as an occupational health and safety officer for a large construction company where he looks after workers’ compensation issues.

Bumps and bruises aside, the 23-year-old said it had done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for officiating the game that has been part of his life for 14 years.

‘I started out playing for the North Hobart Football Club in the under 10s and kept playing into the under-14s when a friend’s dad who was a goal umpire asked me and a few other mates to come along to one of his training sessions,’ Lehner said.

‘I started boundary umpiring and decided that was taking me on a more serious path, so I stopped playing to concentrate on the umpiring.’

Lehner said none of his immediate relatives had ever had any involvement in the sport, ‘so it’s been an education for the whole family’.

That education was topped off last year when Lehner officiated at the Tasmanian State League Grand Final. ‘I went into the game quite confident,’ he said. ‘I was nervous as well but I knew that I’d done the hard work during the year to get there and I was quite happy with the way things went.’

Now Lehner hopes to concentrate on his goal of umpiring at a national level ‘within the next three to five years’. He said his recent appointment as an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient would help him on that path.

‘During the [scholarship] year I want to go in with an open mind and take in as much information as I can,’ he said. ‘Nutrition is a big area for me that I want to pick up on, and also sports psychology and self belief.’

Lehner said he’ll also be sustained by the many friendships he’s made along the way. ‘That’s a pretty enjoyable part of my career, along with the fact that being a bit of a fitness freak already, I enjoy having to be fit for the role that I play.’

Vanesa Devlin - Basketball

Anyone who believes officials are physically ‘soft’ need only talk to basketball referee Vanessa Devlin to have their mind changed.

Since 2009 Devlin has severely strained her back, dislocated her hip and shattered the meniscus in her knee, all in separate incidents while refereeing basketball.

Yet the 26-year-old Adelaide resident said despite a fleeting pain-fuelled thought of leaving the sport, since having surgery on her knee in February 2010 she is excited about her future prospects.

‘Now I’ve had the surgery done it’s got me thinking that next year’s going to be my year and I’m not going to think anything about my injuries and I’m just going to focus again on refereeing and get back into it,’ she said.

Devlin recently received another boost, learning she is to be a 2011 Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient.

‘I was actually shocked that I got asked, because even though I have been injured [Basketball Australia]  still believe in me that I’ll be good enough. [It’s] given me a positive outlook for next year that if they think I can I do it, then I can definitely do it.’

Devlin has been playing basketball since she was five, after being introduced to the sport by her father Wayne who, while now in his 50s, still plays in the district competition for Woodville. Devlin began refereeing in 1999 and has also coached.  Yet once she realised she would make a better referee than player, her playing became more of a social outlet and her refereeing became her professional focus.

Since making that decision, Devlin’s refereeing career has taken off. She was named state and then national female basketball referee of the year in both 2006 and 2008 and in 2009 got the nod to referee the Under-20 National Grand Final.

Devlin is not one to shy away from big events and said her short term goal is to referee the Central Australian Basketball League this season, but her long term goal is to referee in the Women’s National Basketball League.

‘When you start doing a few (of the bigger events) you start get used to the pressure. The first nationals I ever expected was nerve wracking because I didn’t know what to expect but then you just take all your knowledge and experience from the last matches ones and carry them on to the future.’

She said she is fortunate that her workplace at Crown Equipment has been supportive of her umpiring. ‘Luckily I have a great boss who gives me time off when I need it,’ she said. ‘I’ve only been there for eight months and I’ve been wary about it, but he’s been awesome.’


Simon Fry - Cricket

When Simon Fry made his One Day International debut umpiring the match between Australia and England at the Adelaide Oval on Australia Day 2011, it was the day he realised his ‘umpiring had kicked up another level’.

‘I remember one of the turning points [in my umpiring career].’ the 44-year-old recalled. ‘Someone gave me some advice along the lines of “Simon, you need to understand that the players are comfortable with you being there. They want you to be comfortable. Just relax, enjoy yourself and perhaps you’ll go places”.’

Now the Adelaide-based umpire is indeed “going places” with news that he has received a 2011 Australian Sports Commission (ASC) National Officiating Scholarship.

‘I was excited about the scholarship because a number of my umpiring colleagues in Ian Lock, Paul Reiffel and Mick Martell had received them in recent years and I felt that it would be a really good opportunity to spend some time with officials from other sports and learn from them and it’s pretty evident already that that’s going to be the case,’ Fry said.

The fact that he’s already umpired at the elite international level might make some think he’s reached the pinnacle of the sport and could no longer benefit from the 12 month ASC scholarship, but Fry believes otherwise.

‘I’m confident my match management skills are good, but I’d like to learn from officials from other codes, and I’d like to hone my skills in a number of other areas. For instance, I’d like to do more media training as I think that’s something that will come into our game more and more,’ he said.

‘If you’d asked me 12 years ago where I would be umpiring, I wouldn’t have dreamt of getting to where I am at the moment. I now sense that I may have a small chance of umpiring Test cricket so that’s obviously where I’d  like to get to at some time in the next few years. Hopefully this year, I’ll develop some of the skills needed to get there.

Fry started playing cricket at nine but lost interest in his early 20s until he returned to playing for his old school, Prince Alfred College, in an Adelaide turf cricket competition. He kept playing until he was in his early 30s, but by then he had two young children (now three), a burgeoning accounting business and a number of his teammates had also retired from playing.

‘I thought that was a good time to pull the pin but I wanted to stay involved in the game and umpiring gave me that opportunity. That was in 1998 and here I am 13 years later, having umpired on my “home” ground on Australia Day in a match between Australia and England.’

Michelle Grima - Cycling

Although Michelle Grima competed in the Women’s National Basketball League in 1986 and travelled the world participating in other recreational sports including surfing and skiing, one sport has remained constant throughout  her life … cycling.

Now, Grima is hoping to make it to the top of that sport – as an official.

Grima’s father John was a professional rider with the Footscray Cycling Club, riding in many tours and big events throughout Australia.

‘I loved watching the races,’ she recalled. ‘I motorpaced [Dad] when he was training and I saw the hard yards that were in it, but it was a good era to grow up around because there were a lot of brilliant cyclists.’

And while Grima’s basketball career took off, she still followed the cycling events. ‘Dad stopped riding the track but he still raced road on the tours but both Mum and Dad used to volunteer at the track so I’d go along with them. I’d been doing that since I was 14 and it was in my blood.’

Grima also played during an exciting era in women’s basketball in a competition that featured the likes of Michelle Timms and Shelley Gorman.  ‘I was never going to be as good as them,’ Grima said. ‘But I played in a fantastic competition as a result. When my career ended I didn’t think I’d never be doing anything else. I came from an active family. I went surfing and I still had the bike races.’

Although like most cycling officials Grima works as a volunteer, she considers it her ‘third job’ behind working as a pre-press operator for the Herald Sun in Melbourne and teaching children to swim. Grima is also studying a full diploma in photography at Melbourne’s Photography Studies College (PSC).

With the news that she will also be a 2011 Australian Sports Commission (ASC) National Officiating Scholarship recipient, Grima adds a fourth dimension to her already busy schedule.

‘I was excited and honored to be nominated, let alone get it,’ Grima said. ‘I hope to do our sport proud and go to the highest level possible. I think it’s important to have someone that generally loves the sport but is disciplined and knows the sport and can help it grow in a very fair way.

‘I think there is some advantage for me in having played [basketball] at a high level. I appreciate the teamwork, the importance of communication, the need for officials to work together and the understanding at an elite level of what’s expected of an athlete.’


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.’


Kate Jacewicz - Football

For football referee Kate Jacewicz, her most challenging time on the pitch came not from a decision, an encounter with a player or an injury, but from the weather.

While refereeing a Westfield W-League match between Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar in Campbelltown on New Year’s Day 2011, the on-pitch temperature climbed to 43 degrees.

‘ We [the referees] were in black and I remember starting to get the shivers and goose bumps and then my assistant referee pulled out and I wanted to pull out because I thought I couldn’t do the game anymore,’ Jacewicz recalled. ‘The [assistant referee] ended up having severe heatstroke and I knew I was getting heatstroke yet there was no one to replace me.  I jumped into the shower, threw ice down my top and bike pants and ran back out with ice bouncing around everywhere.  I cooled down eventually and finished the game.’

Despite the trying conditions, the 26-year-old said that refereeing the W-League the past three seasons had been a career highlight, slightly edging her recent experiences at the Youth Olympics in Sydney in 2008, and at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Festival of Football tournament in Vietnam in 2010.

She said the Vietnam trip held special memories, not only for the football, because it was on that trip that she overcame a lifelong-fear of flying.

‘I missed my flight and I had to fly to Hong Kong by myself overnight [to catch up],’ Jacewicz said. ‘I hadn’t slept for 38 hours previously because I was so anxious and I was in the gym running every hour but I made it to Hong Kong, although I think I sweated my entire body out. But I think that’s when I was able to say “I’ve done it now”. I only have to hold on to my lucky charms for take offs and landings now, not for the whole flight.’

Overcoming her flying fear couldn’t have come at a better time for the Melbourne-based referee who this year was named as an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient and will likely receive more opportunities to travel, along with access to specialist coaches and mentors.

‘I’ve gone as far as I can in women’s football in Australia and now I’m seeing a different side of refereeing ... the whole picture,’ Jacewicz said. ‘With this scholarship I get to develop not only as a referee, but as a person. ‘

 For Jacewicz, it’s a long way from starting out as a player with childhood friends George and Thomas at Mudgeeraba on the Gold coast, playing with the boys teams until she was 16 as well as with the girls. When her brother needed a referee for his games, Jacewicz volunteered, eventually signing up full time.

‘I went from there to state titles, national titles and here I am today,’ she said. ‘I knew that I wouldn’t become a higher level player but once I started going up the ranks in refereeing I found that I could actually get further and now I can become part of a higher level of football and hopefully get to the top. I think the FIFA World Cup is achievable. Definitely.’

Melanie Jenkins - Gymnastics

Melanie Jenkins was born with shortened Achilles tendons, so as a two-year-old, and on the advice of an orthopaedic surgeon, her parents introduced her to gymnastics classes in Melbourne. It was decision that would come to impact most aspects of Jenkins’ life.

Competing was her major focus, until at the age of 16, she dislocated both kneecaps. Jenkins then threw herself into coaching, rising to coach state, national and international athletes in both men’s and women’s gymnastics.

While she currently works as head women’s coach at the Bulleen Templestowe Youth Club in Melbourne, Jenkins is now making a name for herself as a gymnastics judge and has recently learned she has earned an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship to further her professional development.

‘Ultimately I’d like to be the first female judge to judge at the Men’s Gymnastics World Championships,’ Jenkins said. ‘But realistically, that’s at least nine years away.’

The 27-year-old would have to go through a series of accreditation hurdles, based on the Olympic quadrennial as well as successfully judging at a number of high-profile international events.

It may seem daunting to some, but for Jenkins, it’s simply another way she can contribute to a sport she said she loves.

‘As a judge I love to be able to reward gymnasts for good routines,’ she said. ‘Too often people think of it negatively because judges deduct points from gymnasts who do things incorrectly, but every gymnast deserves respect because of the work they do and the hours they put in.’

Jenkins is no slouch when it comes to putting in hours to the sport either and can spend up to 60 hours a week coaching, judging, or even acting as team physiotherapist when required.  Jenkins squeezes her own personal physiotherapy practise into 20 hours a week. Somehow along the way she’s also managed to earn a Bachelor of Biomedical Science in Pharmacology.

 ‘I like to constantly be learning,’ she admits.

Unlike many other sports, Jenkins sees no conflict in continuing her role as a coach while acting as a judge.

‘When you’re judging at a competition, your own gymnast is never your own gymnast,’ she said. ‘It’s the same for a parent who may be judging their own child ... that child is not their child when they’re judging their routine. It’s about professional respect.’


Laura Hayes - Netball

Learning that she was to become an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient and attending the first camp in March 2011 was something of a welcome distraction for netball umpire Laura Hayes.

The Christchurch, New Zealand-native had watched in horror from Australia when an earthquake struck her hometown on 22 February. While none of her family was hurt, Hayes said the televised pictures she saw showed devastation in her neighborhood, at her school and at the netball courts in Hagley Park where she grew up playing.

The 22-year-old lives in Adelaide where she is studying medicine at Flinders University, but she has somewhat of a pedigree in her favored sport with mother Adrianne Prattley, a former Silver Fern.

‘Mum was obviously heavily involved in netball when she was younger and she got my twin sisters Katie and Alice involved,’ Hayes recalled. ‘When I was about 10 or 11 my sisters started playing and Mum used to umpire their games. I would be standing beside her because my game was afterwards and after a while she got to a point where she’d tell me I could blow the whistle while she would be walking up and down the court telling me when to blow.’

It would prove to be a good grounding because repeated injury saw Hayes giving away her playing career in her teens. ‘I missed the team environment,’ she said, ‘but umpiring is my life now.’

Hayes cites her career highlights to date as umpiring New Zealand age group championship finals and two games in the Australian National League. She said one of her biggest strengths is her ‘ability to read the game and understand where the players are coming from’, but adds with a laugh that she also has the ability to ‘keep a neutral expression so people don’t actually see the chaos that’s going on in my head’.

Ultimately she would like umpire at international level, and in particular a Trans-Tasman match. For her scholarship year she wants to concentrate on working on the psychological aspects of umpiring at an elite level, but also admits that with her medical studies, time management will be a challenge she needs to work on.

‘I’ve spoken with the university, assessing what I can or can’t do,’ she said. ‘There might come a time when one or the other goes on the back burner for a while, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.’


Diana Toppi - Netball

Some would say that Diana Toppi is immersed in netball. The emerging elite umpire plays in the Waverley Meadows Netball Club Premier Division in Melbourne’s south-east; fills in for other teams when she’s not umpiring; is co-President of the club; and coaches a local team.  In her professional life, Toppi works as a physical education teacher at Pakenham Secondary College. Among the sports she teaches ... is netball.

‘Sport is a big part of my life,’ Toppi said. ‘I used to be heavily involved in softball too and did play and umpire in that sport, but netball is my main focus now.’

The 26-year-old started playing the sport in primary school with the encouragement of her physical education teacher and said as she got older, the number of the nights she was playing increased, and from that, opportunities to umpire and coach came along.

She said there were two catalysts for her decision to concentrate on umpiring. The first was when the sport’s administrators noticed her talent and started encouraging her to try for her umpiring badges. The second was having a knee reconstruction in 2004.

‘I’ve come back to play netball but I don’t jump as high I don’t run as hard I’m scared to do a lot of things on that court because psychologically I don’t want to go through that again,’ Toppi said.

Instead, she’s channelling much of her energies into umpiring. ‘I feel like when I’m on the court, I’m part of that game too and even though I’m the one with the whistle in my hand managing, controlling the game, I still feel a part of it. You know when you’re doing really well when you’re in that right spot at the right time, you feel good and you feel a part of the game, it’s exciting.’

In 2010 Toppi umpired the Nations’ Cup, an annual six-nation friendly competition held in Singapore. ‘I remember my second game in the Nation’s Cup, it was Scotland v Wales and I was really overwhelmed with the crowd,’ Toppi said. ‘I expect that it’s something that exposure to more big events will help settle. I’m watching my friends umpiring the ANZ competition and it become more realistic that I’m close to that too.’

Toppi recently learned she has received a 2011 Australian Sports Commission (ASC) National Officiating Scholarship to help in her professional development.

‘I was a little bit relieved when I heard the news,’ Toppi admitted. ‘I knew there was potential for it, and I was waiting for news for weeks. I was grateful, excited and relieved that I now have this opportunity.’


Tara Warner - Netball

In 2010 Sydney-based netball umpire Tara Warner was umpiring a match at the Ann Clarke Netball Centre in Lidcombe and went to flourish her whistle to start the game. Instead, the whistle flew out of her hand and skidded across the polished floorboards of the courts.

‘I’ve just said: “hold on a sec here guys, I’ll just go get my whistle”, so here I am trying to keep composed while jogging down the sideline as the 14 players and my co-umpire are watching me,’ Warner said. ‘They thought it was hilarious. I thought it was hilarious. It was good because it broke the ice between the players and myself because it said look: I am human, I can joke, I can laugh.’

Beyond the lighter moments, the 23-year-old takes her umpiring very seriously. Although she played the sport in childhood, as soon as she began umpiring at the age of 13, Warner knew that was where her future in the sport would be and she immediately stopped playing to concentrate on umpiring.

‘I went to my first camp – a national C camp – pretty soon after I started umpiring and I was mentored by Lisa Chiovo,’ Warner said. ‘She mentored me all through that beginning stage, and made me aware of all the opportunities that could come my way through umpiring … the friends I could make and the really fun times I could have. She really pushed me through that door and that’s how I became aware of what was out there.’

It’s a long way from the early days of her childhood when Warner said she didn’t know ‘anything about the world of umpiring’ and that as a player they were just two people on the side of the courts doing ‘whatever they did while I did whatever I did’.

These days Warner is looking forward to the exciting possibilities of more travel within Australia to umpire at national matches, as well as international tournaments overseas.

She’s recently received an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship, only finding out after holidaying for eight days in Cambodia, that she would travel interstate to attend a four-day scholarship induction camp. ‘I work as an accountant and payroll officer at Andreasens Green Wholesale Nursery and I’m very fortunate that my boss fully supports my netball and gives me the time off when I need it,’ she said.

She’s also supported by her current mentor, AA-badged umpire Helen George and said she hopes that the scholarship year, combined with advice from other mentors Maureen Boyle and Chris Burton will help her meet her medium to long-term goal and earn her national AA badge. ‘But at the end of the day that’s just a reward,’ Warner said. ‘And if that happens to come my way, then so be it. At the moment my focus is just on the next game and making sure I do the best I can do for that game.’


Geoff Northam - Rowing

Many things that Geoff Northam learnt while training as an air force pilot and later as an air force engineer he now applies to his role as an up and coming elite rowing official.

‘When I joined the air force training to become a pilot [the trainers] always talked about situational awareness.  You don’t just focus on what the airspeed or the height is, you’ve got to keep all the parameters in sight. You need to keep an eye on everything and be aware of what’s happening around you, otherwise you can get really channeled on the one thing. It’s the same on the water.’

The 52-year-old now works as a project manager for a Defence project management practice in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and said that his profession ‘is all pressure’ so he copes well with stress and said ‘strange as it may seem, officiating is relaxation for me’.

Northam began officiating after watching his daughters Jaimie, Kiri and Christabelle rowing throughout their school lives. 

‘I sat bored at the finish line watching races come down and having to wait a long time between races and I thought that there must be something I could do while I was waiting for it to happen. If I was going to spend all that time there I thought I might as well do something useful and I’ve somehow got to be more useful than I perhaps ever imagined I would be.’

While Christabelle is still competing at the under-23 national level, Northam is the only other family member who remains involved in the sport.

He said the closest he ever came to competing was battling to stay in a neighbour’s single scull he borrowed while living near a lake in the United States. ‘He watched me fall out for the first few weeks until I got the hang of it,’ Northam recalled.

Now Northam has his eye on becoming an international rowing official by earning his FISA officiating certification. 

A recent announcement that his is to be a 2011 Australian Sports Commission (ASC) National Officiating Scholarship recipient may help boost that goal.

‘Five years ago if you’d said I’d be in this position, I would have said no,’ Northam said. ‘But it’s very real now and quite exciting when you think about the opportunities to officiate in international events when only one official from each country gets the nod at any event.’


William Webster - Rowing

While he may be a little over 165cm, there’s no doubting Bill Webster’s stature in the sport of rowing. 

Having successfully made the transition from coxswain to rowing official, Webster is enjoying success on the landside of the sport.

The 43-year-old has recently been named as an Australian Sports Commission (ASC) National Officiating Scholarship recipient for 2011 in recognition of his emerging reputation and said he hopes to concentrate on earning his international officiating licence.

If he does so, it will be another international ‘cap’ for Webster, who represented Australia coxing the men’s lightweight eights at the 1994 World Championships.

Based in Melbourne where he works as a cost controller, Webster has been involved with rowing for 30 years.

‘I started when I was 13 at Carey Grammar and I was always the smallest or second smallest kid in the class,’ Webster recalled. ‘I sort of got bashed around on the footy field and I thought coxing might be something I would enjoy and be good at.  I didn’t end up coxing the first eight at school, but Noel Donaldson who is now the national men’s head coach and was a teacher at the school, helped me a lot.’

In fact Donaldson gave Webster the nod for a schoolboys trip to Hong Kong and Webster won the open junior four there, along with another Carey boy, James Tomkins, who would go on to become one of the ‘Oarsome Foursome’.

When Webster left school, Donaldson invited him to join the Mercantile Rowing Club where Webster became coxswain for the under-19 four, winning the national title.

After several years at the club, Webster became more involved with administration, first as secretary and later as an official.

‘Despite coxing for a long time, I never took to coaching from the bank,’ Webster said. ‘I could be the coach in the boat but I never really fancied being the coach out of the boat so when I wasn’t coxing I was looking for regatta involvement and officiating gives me that.’

He said he gets great enjoyment from the perspective gained in helping run events. ‘When you’re a competitor you just turn up for your event. You get on the water, you get up to the start line and you’re only concerned about your event. But when you’re an official or regatta secretary you’re looking after the whole day and there may be 100 or 200 races in a day and you have to look after all of them. It’s quite an interesting thing to do.’


Chris Anderson - Rugby League

When rugby league referee Christopher Anderson learned that he was to receive an Australian Sports Commission national officiating scholarship, he was on top of the world ... literally.

‘I applied before I went overseas on a holiday to India for three weeks,’ Anderson said. ‘I was up in the Himalayas up looking out a mountain on a cloudy day when I checked my emails and found out that I’d been successful in the scholarship.’

The 27-year-old said the news excited him but also made him a little nervous about the 12 months ahead.

‘I’m looking forward to working on my recovery skills and nutrition,’ he said. ‘They’re two main things I think I need to focus on that would make it easier to train during the week, but I’m sure there are other things that I’ll learn about during the year that I haven’t really thought about before.’

Anderson covers hundreds of kilometres every week to fulfil his refereeing commitments. He works as a boiler maker in the mines at Moranbah 200km inland from Mackay on Queensland’s coast. A typical weekend involves the drive to Mackay, then an hour’s flight to Brisbane to referee and the same trip in reverse to get home.

He said while it was tiring, it was all about continuing his involvement in the sport he loves. ‘I played league when I was little until I was 17 and my Dad, Alan, started refereeing when I was 14 and I took an interest in what he was doing,’ he said. ‘Eventually I realised that I was more interested in refereeing so I gave the playing away.’

Anderson’s brother Anthony also referees locally. ‘We were lucky that there were a couple of referees who lived there when we first started and they put us on to the right people in Mackay to help us continue,’ he said.

Anderson nominated the XXXX Challenge curtain-raiser to the 2010 second State of Origin at Suncorp Stadium as his biggest game so far. ‘It was the first time I’d been to Suncorp, let alone referee at it, and added to that it was before an origin night, so it was pretty big night,’ he said.

At 193cm, Anderson is a towering official on the field. ‘[The height’s] a bit of an advantage because I can see over a lot of people which helps me see on the field whereas shorter people get stuck behind players, but I can actually see over the top of them or around them,’ he said.

As for having the same name as a recognisable rugby league coach, Anderson said it was yet to cause any problems but he hoped he too could go as far as he could in his chosen area of the sport.

‘Everyone says when they start refereeing that they want to referee in the NRL but I don’t think it’s about that for me I think I just want to do the best that I can and if that involves getting to the NRL then that’s what it is.’


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.’


Faye Lewis - Swimming

Few would think there would be many potential hazards associated with officiating at swimming competitions but Faye Lewis discovered otherwise when she was marshalling swimmers at the Australian Open Championships at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre (SOPAC) in 2010.

‘The marshalling area gets quite crowded at SOPAC and the warm up pool is near the marshalling area,’ Lewis said. ‘I was coming back from check starting, making sure that the swimmers were in the right place at the right time, and as I turned around I walked straight in to Brenton Rickard as he jumped out of the end of the pool.’

Lewis, at 162cm, was left dripping wet after running into the 196cm breaststroke specialist. ‘He’s a big man and it was fairly embarrassing,’ she said.

Encounters such as this aside, the 48-year-old said she is still amazed at being on the pool deck with some of the sport’s most successful swimmers when only a decade ago that she was officiating at her children’s swim carnivals.

‘When my children Karina and Jarrad were born I decided that they needed to learn to swim,’ she said. ‘They showed some potential and I registered them with the local swim club. I went to club’s annual general meeting and they were looking for help so I put my hand up. Someone at the club was trying to promote technical officials and saw that I might be a good target and he started to train me.’

Her children no longer compete but Lewis is getting more than enough competition experience for them all. Her career highlight so far is officiating at the Australian Open Championships.

‘I’ve had various positions at competitions like that … mainly marshalling and check starting which involves getting the swimmers in the right place at the right time and that’s really great because you get the opportunity to actually interact with the swimmers to the level they want that to happen.’

Lewis said she still enjoys working at grassroots competition, particularly development carnivals ‘where you get an opportunity to talk to the swimmers rather than just disqualifying them and writing it on a piece of paper’.

‘They can be horrified when their name gets on a list with a big DQ [disqualified] next to it,’ she said. ‘I like having the opportunity to talk to the swimmers and explain that to them and help them and encourage them to stay in the sport by saying:  well yes, you’ve been disqualified for it, there’s a reason for it but you can sort it out and fix it.’

She admits that this approach is probably the product of her training as a teacher and early childhood educator and her work in children’s services for the NSW Department of Community Services.

‘I’ve also enjoyed working with adults a lot more since I’ve been involved in swimming,’ she said and added that she had also developed supportive relationships with other technical officials, some of whom were at the same stage of the development pathway.

Lewis, who recently received an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship, said she wants to pass on whatever she learns to the officials who are developing alongside her, but at a personal level, hopes to improve her decision making skills.

‘There is a lot of pressure, particularly at competitions like the Australian Championships, to have the results done very quickly because the event is televised and the results have to go straight to the media and there’s a lot of pressure to make sure they get there quickly and I want to work on that.’


Aaron Leo - Volleyball

As a volleyball player in his youth, Aaron Leo thought that officials were people who became referees because they couldn’t play the sport well.

Once he became an official, his point of view rapidly changed.

‘One of the reasons I got into officiating was that I always thought the officials did a bad job and I could do a better job,’ Leo said.

‘I quickly changed my mind because the biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is that what I see from the [referee] stand is a lot different from what I see on the ground. I have a much greater appreciation that there are a lot of things happening while you’re playing that you don’t take into consideration compared with someone who’s standing on the stand looking down on the play.’

Now, the Sydney-based referee is determined to spread the word among budding referees and frequently runs courses in which he not only teaches technical aspects, but delivers the message that referees have a tough but immensely valuable role to play in the development of the sport.

The 36-year-old is a qualified national AAA referee who has refereed at national level since 2002 but his interest in the sport began while growing up in Malaysia where he began playing.

When his family moved to Australia that interest continued and he played at the University of Technology Sydney, going on to be a state league representative.

When a friend told him he’d do well as an official, Leo initially scoffed.  But Australia’s most decorated international beach volleyball referee Cameron Olson reinforced the message, telling Leo that he would make a good international referee not just because he was technically good with the rules, but because of his personal image on the referee stand and how he engages with players.

‘To this day I attribute my officiating prowess to Cameron Olson,’ Leo said. ‘I’ve always looked up to him and aspired to get to his level.’

With the news that Leo has recently become an Australian Sports Commission National Officiating Scholarship recipient, that dream is closer to becoming a reality.

‘When I heard I’d won the scholarship I did a little bit of a jig, and danced around,’ Leo said. ‘It’s what I need to help me get to that next level. I hope it will help me build some confidence in myself that I am actually an elite official.  I’d like to think it’s recognition for what I’ve done but also for the potential I can deliver for the sport and the experience I can gain overseas.’

During the year he hopes to work on ‘emotional management’, saying that his work in sales for a telecommunications company helps him deal with pressure, but ‘when it comes to managing the emotional side of things — anxiety, nervousness, your own expectations  – your body can do things when your mind is thinking something entirely different’.