KAYLA Hastings-Malone is a breath of fresh air at a time when football umpire numbers are dwindling across south-west Victoria.
The boundary umpire is just 17 but will officiate in her 200th match when the Warrnambool and District league season gets under way tomorrow.
Running the boundary has become a passion and a weekly ritual for the Brauer College student, who is into her ninth season in the role.
She followed in the footsteps of her siblings Andrew, Anna and Josh and has relished spending winters at football grounds across the region.
“My family were all doing it, that’s why I started. The social aspect is fun and I get to meet new people,” she said.
Kayla said football had got faster since she joined the Warrnambool and District Football Umpires’ Association almost a decade ago.
Dedy Friebe, Arno Pennings, Greg Lemmens, Wayne Smalley and Malcolm Clapp have been among the biggest influences on her career.
“There are new ways to do things, I’m learning new skills,” she said, nominating umpiring in the VFL as a long-term goal.
WDFUA president Gavin Sell said Kayla would be one of the youngest in association history to officiate 200 matches.
“You see a lot of kids come through. I’m really proud of the effort she’s put in. For a 17-year-old kid to do 200 games is an amazing effort,” he said.
“Travis Monk may have done 200 games around the same age. It’s the second time we’ve seen someone this young reach the milestone. You look at the ones like Kayla and a few of the new recruits we’ve picked up this year.
“They’ve got a genuine love of football and being a part of the game but aren’t necessarily able to play football.
“They’re the ones we’ve been targeting to join the umpires.”
Sell said the WDFUA’s recruiting was “ticking along quite nicely” although the association was still hunting for more whistle blowers.
The WDFNL is the only league in action this weekend, which meant all appointments were filled.
But clubs might have to supply a central umpire for senior matches when the Hampden league starts next weekend.
“We’ll definitely liaise with the District league and Hampden league, they’re both trying to help us get a plan in place,” Sell said. “The writing has been on the wall for a long time. Over the last 10 years we haven’t had a lot of success with drawing people into it.
“There are so many other things to do these days, it makes it hard to attract new umpires when shops are open seven days a week and kids have jobs.”
Meanwhile, the Rotary Club of Warrnambool East has thrown its support behind the WDFUA in light of its shortage of umpires.
The club has donated $900 to the umpires, which will go to supplying green shirts for new umpires and paying their AFL Victoria Country registration.
The WDFUA trains at Reid Oval on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6pm. For information, contact Gavin Sell on 0406 097 241.