USAFL Umpires Get Chance on Big Stage

Two American based umpires, Arizona's Nicole Fasula and Dallas's Ross McLaren, were selected as recipients of International Cup umpiring scholarships.  As a result, both got to travel to Australia and, in concert with the AFL, take part in extensive umpire training and officiate in both the IC14 men's and women's Grand Finals.  Nicole took part in the women's Grand Final at Punt Road Oval, while Ross was in the middle for the men's Grand Final at the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Both Nicole and Ross took some time to describe their experiences at last month's event:

Nicole Fasula:

"My 2014 umpire scholarship experience was pretty amazing. I didn’t really know what to expect from the trip, but I did know I wanted to learn about and do as much umpiring as possible in Australia. I had the opportunity to train and meet with the AFL umpires, including Chelsea Roffey! She approached me and was very interested in how and why I started umpiring. What an awesome ambassador for the AFL umpires. I had no idea how much they train to do their jobs. Even the goal umpires have time trials they have to meet.

In addition, I had the opportunity to do some one-on-one coaching with Jeff Persson during the live AFL games. It was great to watch the game and have him point out their positioning and calls they were making. This really helped when doing the 3-man system during the IC games. Most of my experience had been doing the 2-man system or umpiring alone.

We were also invited to train with the Essendon District Football League umpires. Everyone was really welcoming and wanted to hear about our backgrounds and why we got into umpiring. I wish we had the same level of involvement in the U.S. It was great to be able to go out and train and then come inside for some dinner and beers together. This was a really cool experience, I had no idea there were local leagues like this.

I have a newfound respect for the boundary umpires, holy cow they run a lot. I had the opportunity to boundary two different games in the IC, in addition to my field umpiring and playing. My first game was for the Canada vs. Tonga men’s game. I didn’t have my throw-in’s worked out at this point but it was a great chance to warm up for the women’s grand final. After some pointers from the Australian umpire coaches I got the throw-in’s nailed and had an awesome time doing boundaries. That was the best field I’ve ever been on.

Overall, I have a lot more to learn about umpiring but I had some great experiences and made some friends along the way. I am hoping to obtain my Level 1 accreditation, and can’t wait to put into practice what I learned in Australia at Nationals. Thank you for giving me this great opportunity!"

Ross McLaren:

"My IC 2014 was immediately unique in that I was an Australian going back to my hometown, however as an "international" umpire. It afforded me a chance to get coaching I may have never experienced if I had stayed in Australia; a chance to umpire with experienced Aussie umpires that I immediately connected with, and still the opportunity to umpire a number of games the USA teams were competing in.

Having grown up playing the game, what immediately stood out to me was the difference in style of play between teams. The Irish, US and Canada played a more traditional style, where as the Japanese and Chinese played with an emphasis on skills and ball handling. In the end, it was the speed and fitness level of the island teams like PNG, Nauru and Fiji that often proved too much in the fourth quarter.

The most enjoyable aspect was that even with such a large number of teams and different cultures, we all became quickly familiar with each other. Seeing each other at restaurants, tournament events and even airports, all were greeted with that knowing nod of being a part of a great experience together.

Obviously, for me to end the tournament umpiring at the MCG in front of family and friends on a ground many, including myself, often dreamt of playing on, was an experience I will never forget. An opportunity and experience that is much appreciated."

Photos courtesy of Ross McLaren and Nicole Fasula.
Top: AFL goal umpire Chelsea Roffey (second from left) with the USAFL umpiring contingent at IC14.
Middle: Ross McLaren (far right) walks out with the umpiring crew for the IC14 Men's Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Bottom: Nicole Fasula (center, in orange) calls for a free kick during the match between Canada Midnight Suns and Tonga.


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