Young umpire makes history

The round 13 Western Border Football League battle between East Gambier and Casterton Sandford was not just about the players as one field umpire also made history.

McDonald Park was the venue and Kate Tomkins was the name of who will forever be known as the first ever female to field umpire an A Grade game of Western Border football in the competition’s 58th year of existence.

The Casterton based field umpire has only been doing the job each weekend for the last two years, but has quickly progressed up the ranks to be amongst the best.

Tomkins said she was not aware of the historic occasion until just moments before the bounce, but felt at home once the nerves settled as the game went on.

“It was quite nice, but I did not know I was the first (female) until we were about to umpire when we went into the room to meet the players,” she said.

“So it was a good surprise and a huge honour to be the first and hopefully other girls follow suit.

“I was a bit nervous, but once the first quarter was gone I felt very comfortable.

“I think they were just natural nerves at the start of a game, but I cannot wait to do a few more games when I come back to Casterton.”

South East Football Umpires League coordinator David Carraill was by Tomkins’ side also umpiring at “The Kennel” and said the youngster did a great job even after one funny moment.

“This year she has been doing a bit of juniors and she said she was keen to have a crack at seniors, which was really exciting,” he said.

“She may not have been as nervous as many of us because she had some experience in Ballarat, but the response from the players when we saw them in the changerooms was great.

“They were all rapt and Dylan Ayton in particular said it had ‘made his day’.

“I think it was the first time she had umpired with three on the field, so after a goal she was staying in the centre and was not aware she had to swap, but she was clever enough to pick up on that pretty quick.

“The whole day went well and she was not afraid to pin somebody with a hot holding the ball call.”

Despite breaking ground in the Western Border scene, the game was not the first time Tomkins has blown the whistle at A Grade level.

She is currently based in Ballarat for university commitments and made her top-grade debut at the start of the season in the Central Highlands Football League.

Tomkins was enjoying some holidays at the time and travelled back home and was more than happy to resume her Western Border umpiring duties.

Even though she admitted to being more nervous to umpire in front of familiar faces, she said her time in Ballarat provided her with a solid foundation to be at her best at McDonald Park.

“Especially because I am from Casterton I knew lots of people around the ground so that made me a lot more nervous,” she said.

“In Ballarat it is easier for me because I do not know anyone up there, but I would have been more nervous (in my WBFL debut) if I had not umpired in Ballarat.

“Because Casterton does not have an Under 18’s team, going from Under 16’s to A Grade would have been a massive jump, so it was good to have that prior experience.

“I had to adjust to different rules with the Victorian competition using the full AFL rules like standing on the mark.

“The Central Highlands is probably a little bit below the Western Border.

“It is very interesting because if you can umpire that, you can umpire anything.

“Being a 19-year-old girl it can be a bit hard to control fighting men, but you have to get used to it.

“So it was really good to adjust to different rules which gives me more experience and makes me a better umpire.”

Tomkins was always destined to become an umpire with a long family history in the field.

Her father was a regular field umpire, while her three brothers were also running around on the boundary line each Saturday.

Tomkins joined her siblings on the boundary for the best part of half a decade before taking on the main role in the middle.

Although she only managed to officiate one game before COVID-19 she remained dedicated to the challenge when football returned.

Tomkins is the “only resilient one” in her family still umpiring, with the financial and fitness benefits her favourite aspects of the hobby.

Despite scaling new heights wearing green, she said she continues to juggle her umpiring and playing commitments each weekend and conceded a choice between one or the other could be coming up pretty soon.

“I really enjoy umpiring and the money and fitness aspects are great as well, so it is the perfect fit for me,” she said.

“I am still playing football as well, so I am trying to balance that, but there will be a time when I might need to make a choice.

“I have played over 100 games and had a few injuries, so if I get one more serious injury playing football that might be it for me.

“I umpire on a Saturday and play on a Sunday and try to alternate training sessions each week trying to make the most of each.”

As part of the training sessions in Ballarat, Tomkins and her fellow umpires are lucky enough to learn from some AFL talent regularly.

As she dreams of taking her umpiring as far as she can, Tomkins also hopes to continue to inspire more girls to get a whistle in their hand as well.

“It would be really good to go as high as possible with my field umpiring,” she said.

“AFL umpires actually travel here and give us advice which helps us so much learn more about the game and their experiences which makes us better as well.

“But because there are not many girls around I think it is good to be a role model for younger girls to come through.

“It is important to set the standard and show girls can do it and it is not just a men’s job.”

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