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2009 Scholarship Holders

Paul Barron – Australian football

In his youth, Paul Barron, was the ‘last one huffing and puffing around an oval’ whenever there was any kind of running event.  These days the budding Australian football umpire would be among the first–but maintaining that level of fitness does require some sacrifices. ‘I’ve got a group of mates who aren’t too familiar with AFL and can’t understand why fitness is so important to umpiring,’ Barron says. ‘I’ve always got training, I’m up at the gym every day doing weights and they give me a lot of stick. But I think how good umpiring would be when you make it to the top, the opportunities that are there and there are all sorts of things you can do when you retire.  I have a limited chance in the next couple of years to make it to the top and I figure you make all the sacrifices now and enjoy everything it’s got give. After that you can go back to relaxing.’

Sydney-based Barron, 23, was introduced to the sport by his father Peter and played with the Bangor Tigers. An umpiring coaching camp in Wollongong fuelled his interest in that side of the sport and he continued umpiring and playing.  At 18 he played a season with the under-18 St George Crows and was dropped for the final.  ‘It hit me that I wasn’t quite good enough to make it as a player’.  Now, after successful seasons umpiring in the Sydney AFL Premier Division Seniors, he has aspirations of making it to the national competition as an umpire. He hopes to use his National Officiating Scholarship to, among other things, improve his communication with players.  ‘It’s something that’s been identified as a weakness,’ he says.  ‘I don’t have a change of voice.  I have loud and that’s it and that can sometimes be confronting to the players.  Shouting is not always the best option.  An umpire needs to be calm, concise, explain things quickly and move onto the next contest.’

When he is not running six days or working out at the gym, Barron works at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation in the graduate program. He has a University of Wollongong engineering degree in mechatronics, a fusion of electronics and mechanical engineering, and says there are parallels in the skills in both his academic background and umpiring.  ‘[In engineering] you have to follow certain rules equations and physical laws.  The same with umpiring.  You follow the set of rules.  Did this happen, then yes, if so this could be the outcome ... you have to process it in your mind.’

Matthew Brown - Australian football

Even in his early years as an Australian football player in Victoria’s Waverley Football League, Matthew Brown had a healthy respect for umpires. His father Ian was an umpire and although he didn’t know much about the mechanics of umpiring: ‘I had a bit more respect for [them] than the average person, because obviously you respect your Dad’. 

When Brown stopped playing the game at 15, his father led him towards umpiring.  ‘I had friends who were involved in it,’ he says.  ‘They painted a pretty good picture of it, they were pretty positive about it, so I thought it would be something I would enjoy.’

Eleven years later, the 26-year-old has racked up an impressive umpiring record, topped by last year umpiring the Victorian Football League preliminary final between long-time rivals Port Melbourne and Williamstown. He said umpiring a game is enjoyable, but training is also a highlight.  ‘During the week you train with your mates, and obviously the training is difficult.  It’s pretty satisfying when you get through a session, you whinge and moan a bit, but there’s definitely a high when you finish.’ He says his work as a landscaper also helps with his strength and conditioning during the week, but he has a good history in fitness, competing in athletics as a child. 

With the help of his National Officiating Scholarship, Brown hopes to concentrate on recovery and nutrition and ‘be a bit more professional in the way that all happens’.

Shaun Gleeson - Australian football

It was cricket that set Tasmania’s Shaun Gleeson on the path to becoming an Australian football umpire. While he’d played Australian football as a nine-year-old in an under-14 side, it wasn’t until he was at college and had a friend on the boundary line that hid interest was piqued.  ‘We played cricket together,’ Gleeson recalls  ‘He said come along [and umpire footy] because it’s good for the fitness and you get a bit of pocket money.’ While Gleeson still plays third grade cricket, his major focus has become football umpiring. Last year he umpired in the Victorian Football League and admits that although he was nervous, ‘once I got out there, it wasn’t too bad’. ‘I’m pretty laid back and take things as they come,’ the 23-year-old says. As for future advances in his umpiring career, he doesn’t try to plan ‘too far ahead’. ‘I just assert myself during the season, have a good quality year, try and make the finals and see how it goes from there.’ Gleeson says a National Officiating scholarship would help him ‘see what it takes to become one of the top umpires’. ‘Most that I’ve seen are very professional and take their job very seriously.’ He says umpires needed to be strong people with confidence and belief in themselves. The Gunns Truss Factory employee said these are qualities are working on with the help of his co-workers. ‘A lot of them usually don’t want understand what it takes to become an umpire so they try to bag you out a bit, but it makes you stronger as a person,’ he says.

Brett Kronk – Australian football

As a 15-year-old Australian football umpire, being bailed up in the change room by an irate coach after several children were injured in an under-12s match, might be enough to dissuade you from ever setting foot on an oval again. But Brisbane’s Brett Kronk found enough that he loved about officiating to pursue the role. ‘I was [umpiring] by myself and a couple of kids got hurt from legal tackles and I had the coach storm across the field yelling all manner of abuse at me and when I went to the change room he came to the door and started screaming at me,’ Kronk recalls. ‘I probably would have made it better if I’d stood my ground and said this was my decision at the time, but I was pretty young.’ Still, he says, nothing beats the vantage point of umpiring. ‘Everyone loves to go and watch a game of football and in umpiring you get to be in the middle, so it’s the best place to watch the game and to be involved.’

Kronk played the sport as a child until mid-teens growth-related injuries stopped him from playing and he turned his interest to umpiring. He fits in training around his work as a graphic designer and says his job skills–including people management and communication–help him on the field.

Last year the 24-year-old umpired the AFL Queensland grand final and the experience further fuelled his desire to take his umpiring further. With his National Officiating Scholarship, Kronk hopes to realise that dream. ‘I want to get to the AFL and I feel I’m on the path to that at the moment. The scholarship program is another real stepping stone and I want to make the most of that.’

Toby Medlin - Australian football

Toby Medlin’s Australian football playing days ended in year nine of his schooling. It was then that he recalled his father John’s views on coaching schoolboy football to ‘always hide your worst players in the back or forward pocket’.  ‘When I found myself [in those positions], I remembered what Dad said and I stopped enjoying the game,’ Medlin says.  ‘I always saw myself as an on-ball player and wanted to be involved in the action all the time.’ One way he saw of realising that dream was to become involved in umpiring.

These days the 24-year-old South Australian even finds it difficult even to watch a game of football on the television with his father.  ‘He’s watching from a spectator-oriented position whereas I sit there and analyse the game from an umpiring position.  It can be quite funny,’ he says.

While football umpiring is one great love, Medlin is also a talented middle-distance runner, last year winning the South Australian 1500m. ‘My running and athletic ability I hope reflects in my decision making [on the field] because I’m able to keep up with the game without over-exerting myself physically and I can be more composed and get into position easily to make the right decision.’

Working as a development officer at Athletics South Australia helps him combine his recreation and work life, but Medlin admits he finds it challenging to balance training, game days and spending time with family and friends. He hopes his National Officiating scholarship will help him improve the consistency of his performances and set him on the path towards one day umpiring an AFL grand final.  ‘I know that not everyone is able to do it, but you don’t set your sights high, you’re definitely never going to be able to achieve it.’

Scott McPhee - Australian football

When Scott McPhee reached saturation point playing Australian football in Perth, he turned to umpiring as a way of bringing ‘balance’ to his life.  In his early teens McPhee was in development teams including the state schoolboys and Claremont squads. ‘There was this issue with pursuing my studies and playing football,’ Mc Phee recalls.  ‘I was just overloaded at footy because I was training and playing in three different teams six days a week and I found umpiring helped make a bit of pocket money and it just fitted me better.’

It’s already taken him places he may not otherwise have gone including umpiring last year’s Western Australian Football League preliminary final and the Northern Territory Football League grand final. Both games have further fired his enthusiasm for officiating. ‘I felt really good for both games. It was a combination of a lot of hard work [behind me] and mentally I was in a really good place.  I knew that I was meant to be there, so I was pretty happy with the way things went.  It’s not always the case, but for those two games I ended up performing really well.’

Such is his passion for umpiring that McPhee’s academic ambitions as a research chemist have even taken a back seat.  He has postponed a PhD researching metal-based anti-cancer drugs and while he’s ‘not entirely’ using his research skills working as a chemist at WA’s Water Corporation, he says ‘it’s fitting with my life right now’.

The 25-year-old says he was ‘stoked’ upon learning of his National Officiating Scholarship.  ‘I wanted to tell everyone ... or at least all the people that mattered to me.’  Over the next 12 months he plans to focus on the ‘mental aspect and self belief’ side of his umpiring development.

Simon Walker - Australian football

As an eight-year-old, playing in the Warrnambool under-13s Australian football competition was everything to Simon Walker, until other players sat on him and he was injured. ‘I didn’t enjoy it anymore,´  he says, somewhat ironically. ‘I liked running and I thought umpiring was the next best thing.’

As he moved up the umpiring ranks, Walker developed a greater appreciation for the officials who run around the field. ‘It really opened up my eyes to what they have to do ... their fitness, their diets and just everything they go through.’

Former Warrnambool umpire Brian Mathers who helped Walker get his umpiring start kept tabs on his development and four years ago called up the 27-year-old to ask if he wanted to come and help out for a season in the Northern Territory Football League based in Darwin.  Three-and-a-half years later, the qualified builder is still there.  ‘I basically went from winter in Warrnambool to Darwin in the wet season build up so it was 15 degrees to more than 30 degrees with huge humidity, so it took its toll for a while’ he says.  ‘The first thing I had to learn was drinking and eating right just so that I had the energy to go to work.’

The move has boosted Walker’s umpiring career.  Since relocating he has umpired three Northern Territory Football League finals, two national under-18 competitions, and been a finalist in the NT 2007 Official of the Year. He has also become engaged to Sally, a boundary umpire in a local youth competition.  It brings full-circle his family’s involvement in the sport with his brother Justin playing in Warrnambool and parents Jeanette and Tom acting as interchange stewards in the Warrnambool league.

Walker says he was overjoyed at news of his National Officiating Scholarship. ‘This really opens everything up to me.  It tells me what I have to do and how much I need to improve.’

Camron Jones - Basketball

At the age of 19, following the end of a match in Parramatta’s Dim Sim Cup, basketball referee Camron Jones was struck in the back of the head and concussed by an irate player he had earlier sent from the court.  Because the match was unsanctioned by Basketball Australia, Jones had no recourse to take action against the player and the player was back on court the following week. Yet far from dissuade him from giving officiating away, Jones said the incident only served to make him ‘more aware’. ‘I was upset, but something like that was never going to turn me off,’ the now 27-year-old said.  ‘If anything it was going to make me more determined to get out there and keep the rules going because if we [officials] all of a sudden drop off, then things like that will continue to happen’.

Jones has been refereeing since he was 16.  With father Chris a former Australian player, it seemed Jones was destined to take to the court.  But when he tried out for under-14 squads, he discovered he ‘wasn’t quite good enough to play’. 

Around the same time he was looking for a part-time job and refereeing seemed a good option.  He suddenly found his ‘niche’.  ‘I really enjoy what I do.  Most people take a lifetime to find out what they are really good at and what they really enjoy and I was fortunate to find it quite early.’

Jones said he was ‘over the moon’ to learn of his National Officiating scholarship.  ‘Actually I accidentally hung up on Bruce Keirs who was the one who informed me and I had to ring him back.  I was a bit shaky for a few days afterwards mainly because of my age and I had really put an emphasis on myself that it was about time I kicked into gear and got my career going.’

It seems that refereeing is also positively affecting his career as a lift technician.  ‘You’d be surprised at how many people get trapped in lifts ... and how many parallels there are [in work and umpiring]. We’re talking conflict resolution and management of people, especially when they’re really stressed.  I find refereeing helps me in my personal life.’

Steven John - Cricket

Cricket has long been Steven John’s number one sporting love.  So in October 2007 when he found himself umpiring Ford Ranger Cup games on Fox Sports he thought: ‘this is not a bad spot to be’. ‘To be involved, particularly at the level I’m involved in at the moment is something I really enjoy,’ the Tasmanian says.  ‘To watch really good players at close range, to see how they go about their skills is pretty impressive for someone who loves cricket.  You can’t find a better spot to watch than 22 yards away.’

However the new challenge in those televised matches was being attached to a microphone.  ‘You’re suddenly standing in the middle with a microphone on, talking to Darren Leahman,  Jason Gillespie and Shaun Tait and all these legends of the game and thinking: “this is surreal but I wouldn’t want to muck it up right now”.’

Six years ago, after 20 years working in business management, John decided to take some ‘long service leave’.  It was over that summer while watching a cricket match in Hobart that he considered umpiring as a way of ‘meeting a new group of people and being involved in something I really enjoyed’.  He’d played cricket at first grade level and represented his state at under-age championships until knee injuries and finally back injuries terminated his playing career. He maintained a keen interest in what was happening in the sport.

Now, with the help of a National Officiating scholarship, John hopes to hone his skills and eventually umpire first class cricket.  ‘I’m keen to keep improving the way I umpire,’ the 46-year-old says.  ‘And to do that I’d like to pick the brains of other sports [officials]. Cricket has some good programs for grade cricket level umpires but we are still developing professional initiatives for the elite level. I think to strive for improvement in a high performance area we should try to learn from other sports and pick up on things where they have well developed ideas or strategies on aspects that may be peripheral to our game, to try and add just that extra five per cent to what we already do in cricket.’

Paul Reiffel - Cricket

At the end of his debut One-Day International match in February 2009 year former Australian Test bowler-turned-umpire Paul Reiffel took a match stump as he left the ground. He returned to the rooms and had the umpires in the player control team sign it.  ‘It was an achievement for me and what I’d been aiming to do’ Reiffel says. ‘Obviously I’ve got a long way to go with my umpiring career, but it was a little rung on the ladder that I wanted to remember.’

Reiffel was added to the ICC international panel of umpires in 2008, four short years after making his first class umpiring debut in the 2004–05 season. The 42-year-old who retired from cricket in 2002 said he had gained a ‘new respect’ for what umpires do. ‘It would have been a good experience to do [the training] while I was playing as I think I would have  had a greater appreciation for them,’ he says.  ‘When you’re a player you tend to go out and play the game and you think you’re the centre of the Earth and everyone fits around you and you don’t really take much notice of the umpire.’ Reiffel says it was in his last season as a player that he began thinking about umpiring.  The catalyst was a trial game among Victorian players when Chairman of Selectors Bob Lloyd stepped in to umpire.  ‘We walked off the ground together and he’d said he’d really enjoyed [umpiring] and we had were having a chat and I thought, “yeah, that doesn’t sound too bad”. ‘It wasn’t until I knew [my career] was coming to an end that I wondered how I could stay in the game,’ Reiffel said. ‘It wasn’t until I spoke to [Bob] that I thought, “why not?”.’

The revelation coincided with a Cricket Australia campaign to get former players involved in umpiring.  ‘It happened pretty easily,’ Reiffel says.  ‘And I feel that it was meant to be.  Right now I’m so comfortable in my role that I don’t even associate myself as a player anymore.  It seems like another person was a player.  It feels like I’ve been an umpire forever.’

He’s found acceptance from most of his former team-mates and peers.  ‘I was really worried about it when I first started but I found it easier to umpire guys I knew than guys I didn’t know.  You have an instant relationship, you know their character and personality and you know what makes them work, so you’re very much at ease and you’ve got a bit of respect already.’

He says his profile is already making other players think about umpiring and when at square leg he often responds to fieldsmen’s questions during ‘slow periods’ in test matches. ‘For me, it’s not a given that you’re going to be a good umpire if you’ve played the game or you need to have played the game to be a good umpire, but if you get more players in with their knowledge of the game obviously the pool of umpires is going to be stronger and the best get to the top.’

With the help of his National Officiating scholarship, Reiffel hopes his own umpiring skills continue getting stronger. ‘Through this I saw an opportunity to see other sports [officials] and how they do it.  When you watch the TV all you do is watch the officials.  You watch how they do it, how they speak to people, how they manage players and athletes.  The scholarship helps in getting the door open into different sports and that’s basically what I wanted to get from it.’

Stephen Toth - Football

Football refereeing is somewhat of a family tradition for Strathalbyn’s Stephen Toth.  His father Steve had both played and coached the sport before deciding to take a referees course. Stephen tagged along. He’d played the sport as a child, but quickly aspired to reach the top of the game via the refereeing pathway. ‘It was something I enjoyed.  I suppose it’s my way of being involved. We [referees] are very close. We back each other up.  We’re like a big family.  The social networking is really good.’ It’s that support from the refereeing ‘family’ that helped Toth through a rough patch two years ago when, in his words, he ‘lost complete control of a game’. ‘I didn’t have control over the players ... my decision making was all over the place.  It was bad, but it’s the only one where that’s happened,’ he says.  ‘When that game finished, I learned from that.  I think I’d been intimidated by some of the players. You do feel upset and you don’t want to go back but it’s part of the job, you get support from your colleagues, your coaches and mentors and you go back.’ The 22-year-old says confidence is very important on the field.  ‘Sometimes it’s natural and sometimes you have to learn it and you get it from experience.  The more games you do and the more football that you’re exposed to, it helps.’ He says he generally isn’t nervous before refereeing a match, but it can depend on the game.  ‘I think nerves are healthy.  It shows you’re thinking about it which means it’s important to you.  If you weren’t nervous, you’d be pretty blasé about the whole thing.’ Toth works fulltime as a retail manager and says the skills needed for the job—including people management, conflict resolution and dealing with the pressures of being watched—mirror some of the skills needed as a referee. He hopes to build on those and other skills using his National Officiating Scholarship to ‘say that I’m ready for the next level and to be the referee that I want to be’.

Joshua Bowring - Netball

Four women have had an enormous impact on Tasmanian Josh Bowring’s progress through netball umpiring ranks. The first two were his mother Gail and sister Julie who ‘ruthlessly dragged’ the youngest member of the Bowring family to netball matches at outdoor courts on ‘very, very cold mornings’.  ‘There would be no sympathy for me.  I’d have to sit on the sideline and just watch them play,’ Bowring recalls.  ‘It’s through years of this and watching the game and finally giving in and thinking you can do just as good as the other umpires out there that I gave it [umpiring] a try.’

The two other women were Tasmania’s All Australia-badged umpire Marj Kerslake, and local A grade umpire Judy Prokopiec.  ‘Both take it upon themselves to be my mentor and coach, and give me hours and hours of their own personal time to analyse my game and give me key performance indicators and feedback sheets,’ Bowring says.  ‘Without these ladies, I wouldn’t be here today.’

Bowring admits there is often a ‘great silence’ when he meets people and reveals that he umpires netball, but says most people are generally supportive. ‘Questions come out on a range of topics, but that’s fine.  I think that guys involved in predominantly female sports all have to deal with that. I’m not alone as a male umpire.  Tasmania has quite a few.’

The 19-year-old combines his training with working part-time at a credit union and studying full-time for an Arts/teaching degree at the University of Tasmania.  He hopes to use his National Officiating Scholarship to work on his fitness and nutrition and aims one day to achieve his All Australia badge.  ‘There’s still a long way to go for me in terms of my development.  I’m just working hard on being the best I can be.’

Jemma Carlton - Netball

At just 18, Sydney netball umpire Jemma Carlton recently started coaching umpires even younger than her, and has her sights set on umpiring at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.  First she needs to gain her All Australia (AA) Badge this year. It’s a long way from the 12-year-old girl whose netball association obliged her to umpire matches and who ‘didn’t like umpiring at all’.  The turning point was in having a mentor who prodded Carlton.  ‘Laraine Hunter got me into umpiring.  She saw some talent and made sure I kept on umpiring because I would have slacked off,’ Carlton recalls. By chance, Hunter introduced Carlton to former international umpire Maureen Boyle, herself one of the youngest umpires ever to gain an AA Badge back in 1977.  Boyle and Hunter helped Carlton foster her enjoyment of umpiring.  ‘I’ve kept that interest and it’s a good way to keep fit as well.  I love it.’ Now, having umpired an International Schoolgirls event and at the National 21s competition; Carlton has a taste for high performance matches. She balances her umpiring duties and training with studying for a Bachelor of Business through the University of Technology, Sydney. With her National Officiating scholarship she hopes to improve on her skills to get to ‘that next level of maturity’.

Tara Gregory - Netball

Studying a Masters Degree in Workplace Injury Management and Occupational Rehabilitation, netball umpire Tara Gregory is well placed to understand all the stresses and strains of elite competition. In many ways, it was an injury that put Gregory on her path to becoming an elite netball umpire. 

As a young girl, Gregory says she was equally as passionate about dancing as she was about playing representative netball.  But when she injured her knee while dancing, netball umpiring, became her major focus. 

The 23-year old Sydneysider says as a junior player, she took umpires for granted. ‘I don’t think you actually appreciate the job you do until you’ve had a go yourself.’  Yet, she says playing the sport had helped her umpiring development.  ‘I feel that having played netball it has given me a greater understanding of the game and how the players feel’.

Ultimately she would like to achieve her All Australia Umpiring Award but at the moment she’s relishing being involved in the game at a higher level and is grateful for the opportunities and experiences that have been given to her in her short umpiring career.  

Gregory says she was ‘honoured’ to have been thought of for a National Officiating Scholarship.  ‘I’m interested in the nutrition and recovery side of things, but I’m really looking forward to getting ideas from other officials about what they go through.  We all do the same thing, it’s just the sport that differs, and I think learning from each other will help improve sport generally in Australia.’

Marc Henning - Netball

Netball umpire Marc Henning believes one of his greatest assets is the ability to build a rapport with players. The 29-year-old from Melbourne says that the easiest way to combat ‘challenging’ players is to get to know them.  ‘I’m quite happy to go up to them after a game talk about particular decisions.  That way you can explain what you’re seeing and hear their perspective too.  It helps them see where you’re coming from and sometimes leads to the odd rule clarification.’

Henning was exposed to netball as a child growing up in Lexton, Victoria when his mother coached the sport and his sister played. Although he played netball socially after high school, it wasn’t until he was finishing up a casual job to study for a degree in Business Administration at RMIT that co-worker Maureen Lambert asked if he was interested in umpiring to earn extra money.

Lambert became a mentor for Henning, talking to him almost every week on the phone. He says with male involvement in netball expanding into coaching, umpiring, scorekeeping and timekeeping, he found ‘no issues’ being a male in the sport.

This year, Henning is being put forward as Netball Victoria’s All Australia badge candidate. Victoria has never before had a male All Australia umpire.  ‘[Just] to have the opportunity to go for the badge is amazing,’ Henning says. ‘It would also show other male umpires that this is a pathway they can take.’ He says he is excited by the opportunities a National Officiating scholarship offers.  ‘I don’t quite know what’s around the corner, but it keeps getting more exciting.’ 

Peta Quinn - Netball

When Peta Quinn watches a netball match a large proportion of her attention is on the umpires rather than the players.  It’s a far cry from her playing days as a schoolgirl when she ‘didn’t really recognise’ that the officials were on the court.  As she got older, umpiring duties were a requirement of her association, but she discovered a flair for the role and was encouraged to continue. These days the Baulkham-Hills born, Wollongong-based Quinn is immersed in her umpiring role, having last year umpired at the National 21-and-under tournament and the International Schoolgirls Netball Championships and this year taking up the offer of a National Officiating Scholarship. ‘I’m on this really exciting roller coaster journey and there are heaps of opportunities that are arising,’ the 32-year-old says.  She juggles umpiring commitments with fitness training, ‘being a housewife’, working full-time in customer service and studying marketing by correspondence. Yet some of her family has little idea of the significance of her ‘double life’. ‘My family has a limited idea of what level I umpire at, but they see that I’m passionate about it and they support me.’   She attributes much of her love of umpiring to the friendships that evolve. ‘There’s a lot of years and a lot of work that’s put into [umpiring] and a lot of ups and downs.  The friendships that you make you begin to rely on and it’s a different type of friendship because you’re sharing those experiences together. I really value that. I also love being involved in the sport at an elite level because I was never going to be a successful player so at least I can be involved at an elite level but in at in a different capacity and in some way contribute towards the sport.’

Timothy Wills - Rugby union

Last year budding Rugby Union referee Tim Wills stepped up to officiate his biggest match so far. He admits to being ‘petrified’, particularly on the first run. ‘I was physically shaking,’ he recalls. ‘Once it was underway it was fine but when you first get in there the butterflies were well and truly in the stomach.  It never really goes away and comes at different levels anytime you take that next step in what you’re doing.  You’re going to have a little anxiety about whether you’re ready for that level or up to that specific standard.’

As someone who grew up in a family that was passionate about Rugby Union, and who played the game until he was 16, Rugby has been a big part of the Sydneysider’s life. As a student playing the sport at Sydney Church of England Grammar School Wills was required to do a refereeing course to better understand the laws. From there, he says it was a short step to ‘hanging up the boots and picking up a whistle’.  ‘The best thing about [refereeing] is the ability to effect the way people really enjoy a game, whether or not you  let it flow, how you manage it and how you can really contribute to the spectacle that is a game of Rugby Union,’ the 21-year-old says.

He does admit that there are times when he ‘misses the camaraderie of a team’.  ‘It can get a bit lonely but [referees] have such a great fraternity.  We’re there for each other and I’ve made some fantastic friends as a result of picking up the whistle.’

Wills combines his rugby commitments with studying commerce at the Australian National University and working for the Australian Rugby Union as the Scholarship Referee in the High Performance Unit. He hopes to use his National Officiating scholarship to increase his knowledge base.  ‘There’s so much to learn, drawing on people’s experience be it from rugby union or other sports and having the ability to pass that on to others within the game of rugby through my position with the ARU.’

David Gregory - Swimming

At 41, David Gregory considers himself the ‘new kid on the block’ in swimming officiating. Having only been officiating for four years, the Brisbane-based official admits he has risen quickly through swimming’s ranks, but attributes this to hard work and the support of high-ranking mentors Simon Hooton and John Keppie. It was Hooton who spotted him on the pool deck at the Grace Swimming Club and encouraged him to continue expanding his skills.

Last year Gregory officiated at both the Australian short course championships and the Australian selection trials for the Beijing Olympics, which he describes as the ‘best swim meet I’ve ever been to’.‘The atmosphere was great, the swimmers were achieving their goals and the crowd was behind them,’ he says. It’s a long way from ‘sitting in the stands’ at the Grace Lutheran College pool where wife Nicole is a secondary teacher. ‘My kids started swimming [there] and I went along one night,’ Gregory recalls.  ‘The kids swam, I sat in the stands and I didn’t find that too interesting, so I started timekeeping at the club and I was encouraged to keep going.’

Gregory works full-time as a remote control software technical officer for Energex, a Queensland electricity distribution company and has been with the organisation for 24 years.  He fits in his commitments to officiating at swim meets around his work and says the greatest thing about what he does is working with young children. ‘Seeing them achieve their records and getting thanks from them just for being there.  It’s amazing to see their faces when they find out you’re there as a volunteer.’

Gregory says he would use his National Officiating Scholarship to help polish his skills as a starter. ‘I’ve also recently become an assessor trainer for officials and there are only four of my age in Brisbane swimming, so I’d really like to promote swimming officiating and build up our numbers because we are certainly very low at the moment.’ And while he would ultimately like to officiate at an Olympics, he’s realistic about his chances. ‘I know that chance only comes to a very few, and if that doesn’t happen, it won’t really worry me. I’ll continue on because I feel like I’m giving something to the sport.’

Shannon Walding - Tennis

When you read Shannon Walding’s resume, you may wonder what there is left for her to achieve in tennis officiating. At 27, Walding is a full-time tennis official.

The Queenslander has officiated at all four grand slams, including being Chair umpire for the mixed doubles final at the 2009 Australian Open. She was also one of six Australians selected from 800 applicants to officiate at the tennis for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Yet Walding sees scope for improvement, wanting to continue honing her skills and using her National Officiating Scholarship to focus her attention on consistently umpiring at higher level tournaments.  ‘I want to be as good as I can be,’ she says. ‘For me it’s just improving the way I manage what I do at the moment and then get more difficult matches and managing those. It’s about improving the way I do things.’ 

Although Walding has an honours degree in economics and an arts degree, it seems she was always fated to be involved in tennis in some capacity because of her family’s obsession with the sport. ‘My mother was watching it from when we were born, so we would watch every tournament on television and see every tournament that came to Brisbane and we would go down to the Australian Open every year. Our family have always been a little strange in that we pay as much attention to the officials as we do to the players and so I knew who some of the top chair umpires were as I was growing up.’

While she played the sport at school, Walding says she ‘never took it really far’. When her mother suggested she attend umpire training, Walding saw it both as a challenge and an opportunity. Now she umpires 10 months a year and works hard to keep her physical and mental health intact, but says the rewards are enormous. ‘There’s nothing more fun than a night session on Arthur Ashe stadium. It’s the highest pressure environment, it’s an incredibly noisy court and there’s the hawkeye system watching over everything you do,’ she says. ‘The matches there are always very important, and the crowd have no idea whether the ball’s in or out because they’re too far away, so the atmosphere is really incredible.’

Robert Szydlowski - Volleyball

After being selected as a lines judge for the women’s volleyball gold medal match at the Sydney Olympics, Robert Szydlowski wondered how any future officiating gig could be better.  ‘The intensity of the Olympics and the effort of the players ... the whole experience in finishing on such a high, nothing could top it,’ he says.  It led to him taking a year off the officiating circuit to resume playing.

The Adelaide-born, Melbourne-based 33-year-old had previously played for South Australia and Victoria in the national league.  As he was coming up through the club ranks, he and other players were rostered to officiate. He discovered an interest that went beyond that obligation and three short years later found himself on court at the Olympics. 

The road to that point hadn’t always been smooth. His previous experience at a ‘big’ match was a pre-World Championship two ‘friendlies’ between the Australian men’s team and Argentina held in Melbourne and Bendigo, Victoria. ‘The captain of Argentina didn’t like what I was doing in terms of my decision-making skills and he tried to influence the game a little bit and I got a bit intimidated by him,’ Szydlowski recalls. ‘He came up and whacked the stand and I probably didn’t respond as well as I should have.  It was a huge learning curve officiating in those two games.’ 

With a National Officiating Scholarship, Szydlowski  hopes to ‘increase my confidence and believe in myself’.  He says his interpersonal skills are strength, honed every day by working as a primary school teacher at Hurstbridge Primary School.  ‘Children need boundaries to work off and [as an official] you also need to make sure that players are within their boundaries.  That’s the expectation you set whether in the classroom or on the court.’

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