While 90 per cent of the time it is the 14 players on court who provide the action and entertainment, the two umpires also provide the necessary control for the game.
Nelson Netball moved to an eight team competition this year, which added an extra game to the Premier Grade on Thursday nights. While it originally could have been seen as adding pressure onto the top tier of umpires, it has provided an opportunity for the next group of up and coming umpires.
Kate Smith, Annie Ewers and Maree Smith lead the New Zealand umpires, while Andy and Deb Vincent, Brenda Thomson and Julie McGrath also hold the national qualification.
Umpires are started young, with a group of approximately fifty Fun Fern Umpires in action under the tutorage of netball stalwart Marilyn Milne. The aspiring umpires can be easily spotted at the courts in their special pink t-shirts. Knowledge of the rules of the game can only but improve their play, as well as giving them the confidence once they have the whistle.
From there, umpires work towards their Centre Badge, and Nelson College for Girls Courtney Lott has recently been successful in attaining hers.
The next step up the ladder is to pass the Zone Theory before being coached, screened and assessed for the Zone Badge. Diane Whittle and Mel Heine have recently passed their theory while two young umpires, Caitlin Reid and Alesha Neame, have their Zone Badge.
Netball New Zealand has a pathway for umpires to follow, and there is help in place all along the way with “panels” to guide those aspiring to reach the next level. The “panels” provide coaching and post-match discussion, and umpires are examined once “the panel” feels they are ready. Umpires are not aware they are being examined and sometimes may be taken totally unaware when they are told they have been successful.
The panels continue to the highest level of umpiring, with Maree Smith being on the New Zealand Umpires Development Group and Andy Vincent on the Mainland Netball Panel.
Anyone wishing to take up the whistle can contact the convener of Game Officials Deb Vincent, who will point you in the right direction.
Another branch of the game officials’ portfolio is the technical officials, who are time keepers, scorekeepers and statisticians – the “benchies” are only used at the Premier 1 level.
Local netball stalwart Vicki Reid has been appointed as a statistician for the World Championships in Sydney. It is another feather in Vicki’s bow as she has already officiated at previous World Champs and Commonwealth Games. Kate Smith has been appointed to umpire at the New Zealand Age Group Tournament, while Annie Ewers will umpire at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Tournament.