The alarm sounded and Toby & I both opened our eyes and looked at each other. Today was the day; The 2014 Grand Final. The day Toby had been dreaming of. It was finally here. We looked at each other and smiled with nerves and excitement. I followed Toby’s pre-game ritual by getting out of the house and giving him some space to get himself mentally and physically ready for the match, which involves him cooking himself a healthy breakfast and often watching the highlights from the weekend’s matches so far. At the ground I met up with 20 of his closest friends and family who had supported him in his journey and were there to celebrate his achievement. As Toby walked onto the ground I beamed with pride. As he walked to the centre and put his arms up ready for his first bounce, I put my hands to my eyes, my heart pounded and I could barely watch. It went straight! What a relief and I knew that Toby would be able to relax now and trust himself and his decision making abilities.
When I met Toby in 2010 I knew nothing about umpiring and I certainly had no idea the level of commitment, dedication and fitness that was required to umpire at the level he did. Over the years I have had a great deal of insight into what it takes to be an umpire at the highest level in the state and it certainly is not an easy road. Fortunately for Toby he has had many achievements and milestones along the way to make all the hard work and dedication worth it. This has included umpiring 3 grand finals, being put on as a rookie for the AFL, winning the Golden Whistle Award last year and now celebrating his 200th game, an achievement only reached by 51 other umpires in the SANFL’s 120 year history.
Toby began his umpiring career in 1999 at the age of 15, which means he has been involved in umpiring for over half of his life. In 2002, he started his career with the SANFL beginning with umpiring the U17’s. He was selected for his first SANFL league match in 2006 and he loved the speed and skill level of umpiring the game at the highest level in the state. Throughout the last 12 years of umpiring league he has developed the skills and confidence needed to be a consistent umpire at this level.
Whilst Toby has had many achievements and highs along the way he has also had some difficult decisions to make and some disappointments to bear along the way. As a talented runner and someone who had a great deal of love for athletics, Toby made the very difficult decision in 2013 to give up running at an elite level and focus his attention on his umpiring. Whilst this decision was difficult at the time it was the decision that allowed his umpiring career to flourish. Another disappointment for Toby has been not reaching his goal of umpiring AFL, especially as I believe he was good enough to be there (although I may be a little biased). Unfortunately for Toby he was close to achieving his dream but it was often a case of being in the right place at the wrong time. Toby has managed to turn this disappointment into further passion and drive for succeeding in as many ways as he can with the SANFL and I am proud of him for how he has handled himself throughout these ups and downs.
As Toby’s wife I am privy to many of the behind the scenes that all umpires wives and girlfriends experience and I’m sure many of them will be nodding with understanding when I mention the time umpiring takes them away from home. With training and game day it is a significant commitment and one which as a family we have to navigate together, particularly with a young toddler and baby on the way. Watching Toby achieve his dreams makes all the juggling worth it.
A big thank you must also go to Toby’s Mum & Dad who drove the long distance from Magill to West Lakes every Monday and Wednesday to allow Toby to attend training in his early years with the SANFL. Without this love and support it would not be possible for him to be where he is today. His mentor and friend Reg Burgess who has always believed in Toby and has been a huge support for him over the years – I know this mentorship has meant the world to him. To his umpiring friends – umpiring is a difficult job and the mateship and support you give each other is crucial. Thank you for your friendship and support during the good and bad times.
We are all so proud of Toby. I know what this 200 game achievement means to him and he has absolutely earned his place in the SANFL history books. Our son Ollie loves watching his Dad on the ground and cheering for his Dad in the green. With life membership to the SANFL I have no doubt Toby and Ollie will create many father-son memories and it will be time together that they will cherish forever.
We love you Toby. Enjoy the experience!
By Sophie Medlin