(L-R) Derek Sariago, Dwayn Bolton, Beau Wardman and Dylan Loo

Encouraging Indigenous Umpires

Thursday, October 04, 2012

by Beau Wardman
2012 High Performance Umpiring Academy

This year, I engaged Indigenous students in the Moorditj Mob at Wesley College in Perth to take up umpiring.

The community-based project centered on giving people a greater understanding of the skill involved in umpiring and to enhance the profile of umpiring within the wider community.

You can think of a number of great Indigenous footballers -- Polly Farmer, Adam Goodes and Lance 'Buddy' Franklin to name a few -- however, it is unlikely you could name an Indigenous umpire. In fact there has only been one at VFL/AFL level: Glenn James.

I selected this project based on a gap I saw between the involvement of Indigenous people playing the game and their involvement in managing it.

Indigenous people have a large representation in playing the game. They are not necessarily in the majority, but at AFL level, state league level and even at a community level, there are large numbers of Indigenous players.

You do not often see Indigenous people in an official capacity, whether that is administratively or as an umpire. There is a bit of a gap there.

History has only one Indigenous person, Glenn James, recognised as umpiring VFL /AFL football matches.

His career spanned from 1977 to 1985; most noteworthy he umpired the 1982 and 1984 VFL Grand Finals. It was reported that James faced abuse from spectators based upon his racial background.

Breaking down the cultural barriers was one of the main outcomes I wanted to achieve and at the outset my concerns revolved around the boys' interest and acceptance of the program.

It is about getting Indigenous people to see that other Indigenous people have elected to umpire - and enjoyed umpiring. It also gives individuals another opportunity to say, 'if I cannot make it as a player at an elite level, there are other avenues to be successful and be part of the competition at that elite level'.

The project focused on teaching the boys the skills of umpiring by educating them around the fundamentals of the craft and concluding with an opportunity to put their newly acquired knowledge into action.

I ran a series of seminars on umpiring with the small group of Indigenous boys from Wesley College, where I also work as a coach to the first XVIII football team.

My initial apprehensions were quashed as I was quite surprised by how enthusiastic the boys were to take part in the program.

They seemed to enjoy the education side of the learning, but it was getting out on the field and umpiring a game where they were not spoon fed the information which was always going to be a challenge, however, it seemed to be something they certainly enjoyed.

The most enthusiastic and passionate of the bunch was Derek Sariago, who is from Port Hedland in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

"Football in Port Hedland is a lot slower than down south and it does not have as much structure, but it is a much more free flowing game, all the umpires back home are non-Indigenous, but they are all locals," Derek said. 

Derek noted there was a greater respect for the umpires in Port Hedland as they were also part of the football club.

"They are really well respected," he said. "They are just people you see walking around the street."

He also said that umpiring was something that could interest him in the future.

"The program was really interesting and it was great to be part of it as we do not often get the opportunity to do things like it."

Another participant in the project and rising football star was Dwayne Bolton, who really loved getting out on the football field and experiencing the other side of the white line.

"Getting out and umpiring the game was really good," he said. "The experience of putting the shoe on the other foot to see how it works and keeping everybody happy by making the right calls was good."

The third of the trio who umpired the year five and six game was Dylan Loo.

"I got a bit of back chat from the little guys, but it was a good experience, I look forward to next time," Dylan said.

I believe programs like this one are significant for students to see the importance of holding leadership positions within our society.

The boys realise that pursuing football is not just about having football skills.

Umpiring requires good leadership on and off the field, and a lot of those leadership qualities they develop are part of their ability to understand discipline.

Outside of football, discipline extends to be able to arrive on time at class and to be responsible role models. It's important for people to see Indigenous people in leadership roles.

Developing umpiring skills was not just beneficial for the boys' football but also the wider community.

Beau Wardman is an umpire for the WA Football League and a member of the 2012 High Performance Umpiring Academy

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