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2015 Scholarship Holders

Alex Whetton, Australian Football League

When Alex Whetton is not pursuing every avenue to become a better Australian Rules umpire, you can find him on a golf course somewhere in Brisbane. The 19-year-old scratch player uses his time on the course to download from one football season and prepare for the next. It’s a technique that is paying dividends as Whetton moves into his third year as a NEAFL and QAFL official and has his eyes on the big league.

The former Aspley Hornets junior player combined umpiring with playing until he was 16 when his smaller stature and agility proved more of an advantage on the officiating side of the ledger.

“I just found that [umpiring] is a natural way for me to be competitive in a sport. I think that’s a really strong part of me in that I’m always looking to better myself, so finding a long-term place in the game that I love was really helpful.

“Being an umpire you look at past guys as compared to players and you see the lifetime that they umpire for, there are still four guys that are 40 year old on the panel so I guess getting this head start so early is going to be a good sign for future endeavours and being able to have a long and prosperous career.”

Whetton says he draws from many aspects of his life outside the sport to further refine his skills, including his job as a golf sales executive and business studies at the University of Queensland. “The parallels with [umpire] training and being in business are in self management. You need to manage how often you’re training, how often you’re eating ... managing all these things that get you to the peak.”

Nathan Williamson, Australian Football League

Nathan Williamson pestered his way into Australian Rules umpiring.

As a 12-year-old Williamson began lobbying his coach to waive the restriction that meant umpires could only begin training courses if they were aged 13 and over.

“I’ve always wanted to do it from a young age,” Williamson says. “My Dad, Doug, was an umpire and would let me run would with the football at his matches so I’ve known from early on that I wanted to umpire too.”

In 2014 Williamson umpired the AFL grand final curtain raiser and says it has made him hungry for more. “It was my first time ever at the MCG and to a grand final. It was an experience I will never forget and always be appreciative of the opportunity,” he says.”

The 21-year-old combines his time training with final year studies in health and physical education secondary teaching at Fremantle’s University of Notre Dame and office work at Clayton Utz lawyers. Managing his busy schedule is possible only because of the West Australian Football League which accommodates his study demands and the flexibility of his employer.

He says he has also benefited from a chance meeting at his workplace with former WAFL umpire Matt Kelleher who has taken an interest in Williamson’s umpiring career. “Matt has taken me under his wing a lot and helped my umpiring in leaps and bounds,” Williamson says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without his support.”

Tom Chrystie, Australian Football League

It took years for Tom Chrystie to find a sport in which he could realise his goal to be among the elite. He finally decided on Australian rules umpiring after playing state-level tennis; representative hockey; representative athletics; and also playing and umpiring football through his teens.

In making his decision, it helped that Chrystie’s physical education teacher at St Bernard’s College in Essendon was Australian Football League field umpire Hayden Kennedy.

“I was very impressed with the elite level at which he was working and how he was managing umpiring and work life and it motivated me to attempt to umpire AFL at the highest level,” Chrystie says.

The work-life skills Kennedy demonstrated were particularly important to Chrystie, especially now as he combines his umpiring with studies in commerce/law and works three days a week as an income analyst for JBWere who he says “looks after” him. “It’s a very good opportunity for me and for the company in having that visibility of supporting, I guess, an elite athlete.”

While it is early days in his budding career on the Victorian Football League senior panel, Chrystie has set himself a three-year goal to move into the AFL. “That’s fairly ambitious, but when you are given all these opportunities to excel, you should take them,” the 21-year-old says.

Claire Polosak, Cricket

Whether she’s teaching a group of Year 11 physics students; assessing if the school pig is about to give birth; or umpiring a Sydney men’s cricket competition, Claire Polosak says essential skills include the ability to “read” the environment and build rapport.

The 27-year-old first discovered this when she started umpiring in Sydney grade competitions as a university student.

“It was my first introduction to that [elite] environment with the men which I found a little bit intimidating at first, but once I built a rapport and relationship with the players and the other umpires, I didn’t feel that way anymore.”

These days she is adding another “r” to the list ... reputation. Polosak is becoming well known around umpiring circles for wearing odd socks, a habit she picked up while attending boarding school and never being able to find matching socks after laundry day.

Beyond that, her growing stature as an umpire has seen her umpire the under-18 women’s national championships two years in a row, and the New Zealand under-21 women’s national championships in December last year.

She started umpiring in her hometown of Goulburn at 16 and now, as a science and agriculture teacher at Mona Vale’s Pittwater High, is teaching children the same age. She says she can take pretty much anything they throw at her. “In a junior class last year when they found out I was a cricket umpire they started trying to test me on signals and then they’d come up with ridiculous scenarios and I’d just say, ‘give me something a bit harder to work with here guys’.”

David Shepard, Cricket

In only his second First 11 match as a cricket umpire, David Shepard had to contend with a batsman and a fielder who were involved in a head butting incident.

“I had to run down and intervene and pull them apart and make sure I got the situation under control. Dealing with conflict like that is definitely challenging. Dealing with it in only my second game was particularly challenging but I did it, got the match re-started and then dealt with it at tribunal later on.”

The 44-year-old had been a long-time player of cricket, starting out with Bundalaguah Cricket Club in Gippsland when he was 12. He says he was addicted from the first moment because of the combination of team and individual achievement that is possible. Many years later when his playing career was ending, he was approached about becoming an umpire, but the timing wasn’t right.

Family circumstances finally dictated the need for a second income and Shepard put up his hand. “It was one of those things that once I stepped out onto the field I thought: ‘this is right, I enjoy this and I want to keep doing this’,” he says.

In less than three years Shepard, who spends his days as a local government manager at the City of Frankston, has progressed through the ranks of Cricket Victoria and now aims to emulate former player-turned-umpire Paul Reiffel, who Shepard knows from his playing days. “Paul is a quietly-spoken person like myself so to see him succeed gives me great confidence that I can do the same,” Shepard says.

Phil Gillespie, Cricket

Phil Gillespie’s path to elite cricket umpiring has not been without pain. As a captain/coach of Melbourne’s Rowville Cricket Club, Gillespie had knee reconstructions, snapped an Achilles tendon, and broke his jaw over a period of 18 months from 2007.

After that, he says, umpiring became very appealing.

He retired from playing and has not played competitive sport since, choosing instead to concentrate on his officiating. The decision has paid off, with Gillespie’s appointment to his first Sheffield Shield match between NSW and Victoria at Wagga Wagga in 2015. “I was fortunate enough to have a very good match and the experience I gained was enormous, in particular managing nerves and pressure throughout the match,” he says.

Now, working his way through a scholarship as part of the National Officiating programme, the 39-year-old says he can see an exciting future. “I want to find my level and when I’ve reached it, I’ll be satisfied,” he says. “I don’t think I’ve reached it yet and I just want to improve and do everything I can to reach that level because I don’t want to undersell myself.”

Matthew Southern, Football

As a civil engineering and management student at Curtin University Matthew Southern is learning about problem solving, conflict management and mediation. As an up-and-coming football referee, Southern is applying his problem solving, conflict management and mediation skills in every match. He says it’s no coincidence that there are synergies between the two.

“Civil engineers are given a task and need to work out all the issues and solve them,” he says. “On a football pitch you get a pile of issues that come up and you need to solve them as well. There are also similarities with conflict management. In football you never know what a player is going to do and you have to be ready to deal with any reactions. In civil engineering you have to deal with different stakeholders in a project and some of them might not agree with each other. You have to mediate and say this is the way it’s going to be and that’s a bit like refereeing as well.”

The 21-year-old started playing the sport in Perth League’s Swan District from the age of 5. Later when his younger brothers Glenn and Liam also started playing, referees were in short supply and Southern took on the role, gaining more and more experience. It led to national appointments for under-13s and under-14s matches and a trip to the UK in 2012 for the Football West Referee Development Tour. In 2013 he debuted in the National Premier League Western Australia season, becoming the youngest debut referee for the league in recent history.

Sarah Wikeley, Football

Sarah Wikeley’s lack of experience playing junior football is what ultimately led to her becoming a successful football referee. The 19-year-old didn’t take play the sport until she was 13, and so had none of the junior development grounding that most of her peers had.

“I kept getting put up for fouls and I didn’t know why because I didn’t know the rules,” Wikeley says. “So I saw a ‘rules of the game’ test being put on by Football Federation Tasmania and I thought I’d give it a go.”

Wikeley gained her level 4 refereeing certificate by completing the test and hasn’t looked back. This year she refereed at the annual international invitational football tournament, the Dallas Cup in the United States.

She combines her refereeing with studying environmental design majoring in architecture at the University of Tasmania and says there are parallels with both.

“[As architects] we have clients, we have to think about what we’re going to say to them and how we’re going to say it,” she says. Clients have wants, needs and desires in the same way that players do. Clients want a house, players want a goal ... man management is a big part of both.”

Janelle Bond, Hockey

At the age of 12 with two years of hockey umpiring behind her, Janelle Bond umpired her first senior men’s game in Maryborough, Victoria.  It was the starting point for a love affair with hockey umpiring that has lasted 17 years.

“In that first match I was scared,” Bond recalls. “But I just backed myself that I knew the rules more than they did and it was something that I wanted to do. That determination to be the best drove me and I just got out there and blew my whistle and off I went.”

The 29-year-old has a good pedigree with her father John umpiring Australian Rules in the Ballarat League, Bond often trained with “footy boys” and says watching her father umpire gave her additional confidence and drive.

These days the Melbourne-based umpire combines playing and umpiring, both at premier level. “Early on in my career I was the only one doing that and there were a lot of questions around whether it was a conflict of interest. I guess my umpiring speaks for myself. Everyone who knows me knows that when I’m a player, I’m a player and when I’m an umpire I’m an umpire.”

Keeping that distinction has been particularly important over the years, none more so than when Bond umpired her sister Carla, in national league practice matches and trials before her sister’s retirement last year. “I’m nowhere near as good a player as her, but she doesn’t really know the rules, so there’s no conflict,” Bond laughingly says.

Rhiannon Murrie, Hockey

Whether she’s officiating on a hockey pitch or undertaking research in her day job as a PhD investigating x-ray imaging of lung tissue, Rhiannon Murrie has a thirst for speed.

In her research Murrie is investigating speeding up the imaging process to produce higher quality, faster lung images that track healthy or inhibited motion.

On the hockey pitch, she’s attracted to the fast pace of the game and the mental challenge.  “There are so many rules and there are a lot of stoppages when you compare hockey with other sports, like soccer. I enjoy the mental challenge associated with the high performance and I enjoy making the game flow and interacting with the players. It’s exciting.”

As a child, Murrie accompanied her father Chris as he umpired around Adelaide or coached at Grange Royals Hockey Club. She began playing the sport at a young age, and gained what she says was a “pretty good knowledge of the rules” but as she progressed through junior ranks, she was sometimes frustrated with the quality of the officials’ performances. With her father’s encouragement, she began umpiring.

Now, while continuing to play high level hockey in Victoria, Murrie is rapidly progressing through the umpiring ranks. She was appointed to the Australian Hockey League in 2013 after umpiring in Fiji at the 2012 World Hockey League, where she took the opportunity to talk to international umpires and umpire managers. “I got some great feedback and advice on my umpiring, and where an international umpiring career can take you,” she says. In 2015 she was appointed umpire for the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea.

Belinda Sleeman, Rugby League

If anyone knows a thing or two about communicating with players on a pitch, it is rugby league referee Belinda Sleeman.

With a background in journalism, Sleeman says she makes a deliberate effort to keep her work and refereeing worlds separate but acknowledges that her particular skill set is an advantage on the field.

“Dealing with people every day in my work, and being able to deal with different people, different situations, different cultures certainly helps in terms of dealing with players on the field,” she says.

The 27-year-old started refereeing in Rockhampton having grown up watching rugby league with her father Alastair and says being able to finesse her skills in the rough and tough football environment of central Queensland prepared her for barriers she encountered on moving to Brisbane and the Queensland Referees Rugby League Academy.

“Obviously not many females tried to be involved in programs before at that sort of level but I guess that made it more rewarding in a sense because I was able to work really hard and overcome them.”

Her passion and talent saw her debut on the touch line during a Wests Tigers clash with the Sharks in 2014 and it’s made her hungry to capitalise further, remaining consistent in performances, and setting her sights long-term on officiating in the middle for an NRL fixture.

Damian Briscoe-Hough, Rugby League

Damian Briscoe-Hough admits that in his teens he wasn’t a huge fan of referees and frequently expressed that to his friends. So when he was challenged to undertake a referees’ ticket Briscoe-Hough did so, not only acing the test, but doing so without ever having read the rule book.

“When I was a little kid put to bed I’d hear Ray Warren on the TV and I’d sneak downstairs to try and get Pop to let me watch football,” she says. “Not that I think that explains [my knowledge] I think it was just something that fitted well in my brain ... the mechanics and the game structure.”

It likely helped too, that two of Briscoe-Hough’s three older brothers played and that he’d been playing the games since he was four, starting at least two years earlier than most of his peers.

That refereeing ticket came in handy when Briscoe-Hough left school, just shy of 15, to become an apprentice chef. “I wasn’t earning a hell of a lot of crust, so I started refereeing under-6 and under-7s in my district to earn a bit extra,” he says. Now, refereeing dominates his life. When his 60–80 hour working week became untenable for referee training, he changed careers. A representative in grade cricket, indoor cricket and golf, Briscoe-Hough also gave those sports away to concentrate on refereeing.

Today, he sees referees as integral to safeguarding the game and the players. “Refereeing isn’t a hobby. It’s a responsibility to the game and needs to always be held in this regard,” he says.

Kasey Badger, Rugby League

Rugby League permeates almost every aspect of referee Kasey Badger’s life.

The 28-year-old works part-time for the National Rugby League (NRL) in its education and research team, she is married to Gavin Badger a 200 game-plus NRL referee, and she also works as an NRL referee.

The sport has almost always had a significant role in her life. “I always loved the game. I started playing when I was four-years-old at Greystanes [Sydney]. My Mum Mary tells the story where she was going to register my older brother Benjamin to play and apparently I jumped up and down and I wanted to play as well. They had said no, I was too young, but Mum challenged them and they backed down so I played until I was 12 and girls couldn’t play anymore.”

Badger went on to play other sports but was still a huge fan of rugby league. She rejoined a women’s league when she turned 18. Around the same time a male friend had asked her to accompany him to a referees’ course and after completing the course herself, Badger took up refereeing in 2004.

She says she didn’t immediately love refereeing, highlighting the long hours and the occasional verbal attacks from crowds and others involved in the sport. “But after a year I found something in refereeing that I hadn’t found in others sports,” she says. The camaraderie and friendships that are built within the refereeing community are like no other. This, combined with a love for the game made me love what I was doing and I’m so glad now that I stuck with it.”

Tyson Brough, Rugby League

In 2012 rugby league referee Tyson Brough suffered a career threatening knee injury while playing Touch football, a sport in which he had represented Australia.

Brough says the incident prompted a learning curve that saw him re-focus his efforts on rugby league officiating and becoming 100 per cent fit, healthy and committed to the sport that had played an intrinsic part in his life since he was 8.

The now-24-year-old grew up on the Sunshine Coast, playing with the Kawana Dolphins and then for Mountain Creek in the Rugby League School of Excellence. His father Rob coached Brough through most of his early career before turning his coaching attention to senior sides.

While Brough says his father “has always backed me in my endeavours”, it was refereeing, not coaching like his father that had the biggest draw. “It is more active than coaching,” Brough says, “and there is a better career path to get to the top. In saying that, once my refereeing career comes to an end I would love to get involved in coaching”.

Not that Brough is looking at ending his officiating career anytime soon. His Queensland Cup debut in 2014 gave him the fire to continue aiming for top match appointments and his advice for other officials just starting out is to trust their instincts. “Confidence is the key,” he says. “You just need to remember that you’re part of the game, making a contribution to the sport you love. At times it will be a thankless job, but the journey you take in an officiating career is one you will remember for a lifetime.”

Jordan Way, Rugby Union

Jordan Way owes much of his career as a rugby union referee to his mother, Anne-Louise.

While playing in a school rugby union grand final, Way broke his collar bone which also ruled him out of playing in the local Cairns competition. He learned that Far North Queensland Rugby Union was setting up a refereeing academy and Anne-Marie told her son that he had to go for it. "She said, look you’re going for this, you’ve got to and she sent me along,” Way says. “I had a great time for the first couple of games and it went from there.”

Way is the first junior to come through the referee academy that was established by FNQ Rugby last year and this year became the youngest referee to make his premier grade debut in Brisbane.

Way continues his own playing career in East Brisbane’s Premier squad. He also combines his studies in exercise sports science and business management at the University of Queensland with a big referee training load. While he says he is yet to find the right balance among his competing interests, he is intent on perfecting his officiating career to “be the best I possibly can”.

Nic Berry, Rugby Union

Nic Berry hopes that one of his greatest strengths as he embarks on his rugby refereeing career is being able to communicate effectively with players. Having played Super 14 rugby in Australia and later playing in Paris and London, Berry says that more than two decades of playing the sport has given him a solid foundation for refereeing. 

“I guess one of the things that I’ve got in my favour in terms of having the professional background is knowing how to speak to players. Obviously throughout my career I have experienced may positive and negative interactions with officials and clearly remember how I liked to be both heard and spoken to as a player,” Berry says.  He adds that his communication skills are required daily in his work as a secondary school teacher at St Josephs College Gregory Terrace, where emotional intelligence and empathy are essential when interacting with his students.   

At 28, Berry was forced to retire as a result of injury and after moving back to Australia with his wife and two children in 2014 former international Australian rugby referees Andrew Cole and Scott Young sounded Berry out about a refereeing career, citing the transferrable skills from his professional rugby background. Berry says it “all seemed to make sense” and has now been refereeing since the start of 2015.

Rachel Horton, Rugby Union

Whether she is on the field as rugby referee, or in the field as a British Army Engineer, secondary school teacher, or postdoctoral researcher in infectious diseases, Dr Rachel Horton has a fierce commitment to excellence.

The 37-year-old first played rugby union in Bristol, England as a university student, then with the British Army after a posting to Iraq. After completing her PhD at Bristol University she moved to Canada where she continued playing club and provincial rugby but when job opportunities brought Horton and her husband Curtis to Australia in 2008, she felt her playing career coming to a natural end but “desperately wanted to stay involved with rugby”.

While she found coaching frustrating because it kept her on the sidelines, she decided to give refereeing a try. “I honestly thought I was just ticking a box so I could say I had a go and didn’t like it,” Horton says. “I’m not sure I really loved it to start with, but it certainly didn’t put me off and it seemed to be something I could work on and improve. I grew to enjoy it and found it very satisfying so I stuck with it.”

Last year she took on her first Premier Rugby match in Queensland, with her parents in the UK watching the live stream. She also refereed a trial IRB Sevens match between the Australian and Canadian women’s teams and says she looks forward to future opportunities.

Meanwhile she’s kept grounded by the male students at the Anglican Church Grammar School in Brisbane’s east where is she teaches chemistry and physics. “The boys absolutely love it,” Horton says. “The parents think it’s fantastic as well. The school really supports me as being a positive role model for the boys being both an academic and being successful in my sport so I hope I can continue to be that kind of role model to the boys.”

John Rohloff, Swimming

Refereeing swimming is not without its drama as John Rohloff will attest.

In 2012 while refereeing at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre, Rohloff was confronted with a complete malfunction of timekeeping during an 800m race and control room supervisors looking to him for guidance. “I had to make the decision as to whether we should abandon the race or continue in the hope that the manual times would work,” Rohloff says. “The SOPAC staff were in the room trying to resolve the technicality and I decided that if it wasn’t resolved by the 400m mark, I would abandon the race. At the 350m mark I got the thumbs up so it was a great relief. That’s the first and only time it’s ever happened to me.”

The 52-year-old made a choice 14 years ago not to sit around in the stands for up to eight hours as his daughter Maddison competed in races. He started out timekeeping at Nepean Swim Club and while Maddison has retired from the sport, Rohloff has gone on to officiate at Olympic and World Championship selection trials, a FINA World Cup meet, Pan Pacific swimming championships, Youth Olympics and countless state and national swim meets, while still enjoying his regular gig at Friday club nights.

Karen Donnell, Swimming

If she had any nerves when she refereed her biggest swim meet at last year’s Pan Pacific Championships, Karen Donnell only needed to recall standing on the top of Mt Kilimanjaro 25 years previously having made the gruelling ascent with crippling stomach problems and the effects of a then-little known local disease. “I don’t like things to beat me,” Donnell says. “When I say I can do something, I will.”

It’s that attitude that has seen the 53-year-old progressing through the ranks of Australian swimming officiating. Like many swim officials, Donnell started when two of her three children, Rebecca and Patrick, were swimming competitors and she began timekeeping at their meets.

She credits Swimming North Queensland’s Alan Johnston with much of her success. “Alan was the first one to approach me and ask me to give time keeping a go,” Donnell says. “He has been an exceptional mentor and is someone who is an excellent person to talk to about officiating.”

Although her children are no longer involved, Donnell says they too have been very supportive of her officiating and watch with interest the next chapter of their mother’s career. “It’s my outlet,” she says. “I really, really enjoy it. I’d love to become a FINA referee and to be involved with the Commonwealth Games coming up. Hopefully I will also get to attend more and more international events.”

Alireza Chitgar, Tennis

The simple act of dropping his brother off at a tennis court in his then-hometown of Tehran, Iran started Ali Chitgar on a path that would ultimately see him relocate to Australia and become an umpire at the Australian Open.

Chitgar’s drove his younger brother Mohammad—a tennis coach and umpire—to a Davis Cup group tournament in 2006. “I just wanted to drop him at the tennis club,” Chitgar says, “but suddenly he came back and said they needed umpires. I told him I had watched the tennis and I know the rules a little but I’m not ready to do umpiring but he said they will tell you the simple things and you can just go to court. So after that I started umpiring.”

He did so for four years, and for a while aimed at gaining his international badge. However, studies in the field of oil and gas took priority. When Chitgar moved to Australia to further his studies, his love of the sport and eagerness to meet new people saw him sound out a local tennis club in Perth about umpiring opportunities. “I think they see that I have at least some basic technique, some experience and that’s when they introduced me to Tennis Australia and after that I regularly go to tournaments,” Chitgar says.

When he married in 2014, he told his wife Shirin that although he was considering giving up umpiring because of their marriage commitments there was potential to have umpiring become part of both their lives. Chitgar encouraged Shirin to also give umpiring a try. Although Shirin had never held a racket and knew little about tennis, she took to umpiring with enthusiasm and last year umpired her first Hopman Cup in Perth. Chitgar is hoping that they will both be umpires at next year’s Australian Open.

Tom Sweeney, Tennis

Tom Sweeney had long maintained the view that tennis was a sport where officials were well respected, but when he became a top umpire, he was alarmed to find that wasn’t always the case.

“There are certainly plenty of examples of players who do respect officials, and many who do not,” Sweeney says. “Shaking hands at the end of the match is customary with tennis and I am always amazed at how few players will be respectful enough to look the umpire in the eye while doing so.”

The 29-year-old got his start in the sport in his hometown of Benalla, Victoria, when a family friend who was involved with the sport asked the then-16-year-old to help out at a satellite tournament.

Sweeney’s “payment” was a free sandwich, but the payoff was having an opportunity to talk with professional officials who regaled him with tales of opportunities to be on court at some of the world’s biggest tournaments.

Sweeney continued to umpire through high school and university, always with his eye on ultimately umpiring at the “golden jewel” in the calendar — the Australian Open. In 2015 he umpired the Women’s Doubles final. “We’re very lucky in Australia that we have the Australian Open as our home grand slam, so there are always fantastic opportunities to be able to officiate in higher matches than you would have if you were umpiring in overseas grand slams and tournaments,” Sweeney says.

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