AS the profile of women’s football continues to rise ahead of 2017’s inaugural women’s AFL season, a concerted effort is being made to encourage girls to take to the field in a different capacity.
With AFL Goldfields’ first senior women’s competition coming into play in 2015 alongside the existing youth girls league, the region’s umpiring administrators are attempting to get more girls to take to the whistle, as well as become involved in both field and goal umpiring.
The regional focus sits alongside a wider AFL initiative which includes the introduction of a dedicated women’s umpiring academy based in Melbourne.
As it stands around 20 female umpires operate throughout the Ballarat region, with three taking centre stage as field umpires.
Ballarat Football Umpires Association's head coach Roger Le Grand said while the increasing volume of football being played had forced the association to search for new talent, the young female umpires in the program had taken naturally to the task.
“Females are a massive area of focus for us, because we see many females as very good umpires,” Le Grand said. “They’re balanced decision makers and they remain composed.
“The AFL are doing a lot to encourage school-aged girls into umpiring.”
One such junior umpire is 14-year-old Maeve Clark, who has stepped up to her first season of field umpiring in 2016 after boundary umpiring in the Ballarat Football League’s under-18’s competition last year.
In each match adjudicated by a junior umpire, an experienced head watches on metres behind to provide assistance to the young umpire by telling them where to run and ensuring no calls are missed.
The Ballarat and Clarendon College student said she was attracted to to the task by the sense of involvement in the game.
“There was another girl umpiring and I thought it might be fun to do it with her and it looked like you got more involved in the game than being on the boundary,” Clark said.
With fellow junior umpire Holly McEldrew, Clark has been umpiring the BFL’s Youth Girls competition, which this year has expended to include 13 teams.
Along with two junior male umpires the pair were recently invited to an AFL umpiring training session held in Melbourne, designed to expose regional and rural umpires to the rigors of being a professional whistleblower.
While Clark still plays Netball for Sebastopol, she said she was keen to continue her development as an umpire, and hoped more girls would join her as the sport continues to become more inclusive of women.
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