USAFL Umpires Make Their Mark on IC17

The International Cup is at its halfway point here in Melbourne, with 18 men’s teams and 8 women’s teams having taken to the pitch at Royal Park, schools, and community grounds across the country.

There is 27th team here in Australia whose performances are being watched with a high level of prominence, and not just because they were in bright green shirts. 

The umpiring unit, the backbone of the game itself, have come from all over the world to adjudicate the matches for IC17.  With the growth of the game gaining speed worldwide, it’s natural, and imperative, that officiating develop along with the playing of the game itself, and the USAFL Umpires association have expanded in spades both in numbers and in quality over the past several years.

Eight USAFLUA umpires are among those among the officiating crew for the tournament: Jeff Persson (Head Umpire Coach, Field Level 2), Toby Persson (Goal Coach, Goal Level 2), Jonathan Mills (UA President, Field Level 2), Laurie Rupe (USAFL Scholarship Umpire, Field Level 2 Candidate), Sid Caesar (USAFL Scholarship Umpire, Goal Level 2 Candidate), Chris Adams (Field Level 2), CJ Adams (Goal Level 1, Field Level 1 Candidate, Boundary Level 1 Candidate), and Peter Dinnick (Field Level 2).

These umpires made history this past Saturday in Diggers Rest, when all eight comprised the officiating crew for the match between Indonesia and China.  It was the first time that an all-American based team of umpires had taken control of an International Cup match across all roles.

For their part, Rupe and Caesar were selected as scholarship recipients of the trip to Melbourne, and both have worked their way into umpiring fray from different angles.

Caesar is a USAFL original, whose participation as an umpire goes back to the first USAFL Nationals in Cincinnati in 1997.

“Like many others in the USAFL, my first exposure to [footy] was on ESPN in the 1980s,” he says.  “I was first exposed to the culture of the game while participating at the 1995 World Police and Fire Games in Melbourne, and then on holiday in Queensland.”

Caesar got involved in the administrative side of the USAFL during its first years, serving as the first American Executive Director of the league in 2001.  “For a time, the league was headquartered out of my home in Rockville, Maryland,” he says.

Playing metro footy with the Baltimore-Washington Eagles and coaching the Saturday Morning Footy youth program, Caesar started goal umpiring in 2002, and got more involved starting in 2009.  He’s been umpiring in every Nationals since 2011, and is currently a candidate for his AFL Level 2 goal umpiring certification.

Off the field, Caesar got more involved in the UA, being elected to its board of directors in 2015 and taking on the treasurer role last year.

As for Rupe, it was friends who led her down the footy path.  “Once I started going, I was hooked because it was unlike any other sport I had ever played before so it was challenging.”

An ACL injury in 2015 put an early end to her playing career, but Rupe wanted to stay involved in the game.   “I was at the Central Regional tournament in Racine and they needed goal umpires for the women's match, and I thought why not give that a shot.  I enjoyed goal umpiring and it was my solution as to how to stay involved in the sport but not continue to put my body through the intensity of playing.

“I knew I wanted to get into field umpiring once I had knee surgery so I goal umpired for the rest of the 2015 season (including the Div 3 Grand Final in Austin), had surgery and then came back in 2016 as a field umpire. I worked my butt off at physical therapy after surgery and was released back to activities within 6 months of surgery.”

Though Rupe’s time as a player was relatively short, it was a good foundation for her to grasp her role as an umpire.  And though she now has several seasons of officiating down, “I still get nervous before a game starts.”

This is a multifaceted trip for Rupe, not only to grow as an umpire, but to explore the footy community and the country as well. 

“Spending time at the heart of the sport and with people who have been umpiring for years.  I want to learn as much as I can to become a better umpire and take advantage of this incredible experience.  I have also never been to Australia so I'm looking forward to checking another continent off my list!”

Ultimately, however, Rupe loves the people who are involved with the game, both the players whom she umpires, and her fellow umpires themselves.  “There are a lot of teams and players who are very appreciative of your efforts as an umpire and realize that without you, they can't have a game.  I still smile when the players do a 3 cheers for the umpire at the end of a game.  The other members of the USAFL Umpires Association are also fantastic and are really good people who you enjoy spending time with.”

For more information about the USAFL Umpires Association, or to learn how you can become a USAFL umpire, visit usaflua.org.

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