It all started on the lush footy fields of North West Tasmania when Waldorff was in grade four, when a meat pie, a can of Coke and a Killer Python was reward enough. The bonus, was getting to scurry up and down the boundary throwing the ball in, trying to avoid being bowled over by a stampeding senior Tasmanian. That was 23 years ago.
“It was an absolute honor,” says Waldorff.
“One of the senior guys pulls you aside and has a chat, that’s the big reward and I think there’s so many people in this industry . . . just the relationships that are made, you never forget them, regardless of whether you’re a player or an umpire.”
James was hooked. On many levels sport is about people and umpiring is no different. A long journey started to form, one that led the politely spoken umpire, a plumber by trade, to Queensland. At each fork in the road someone was waiting to encourage and point him in the right direction.
“Ian Newman, Wayne Youd and John Lee-Archer, they’re three people that, yeah, if it wasn’t for them I definitely wouldn’t have continued to umpire,” he says, of his Tasmanian influences.
Moving North provided James with even more mentors. First there’s Queensland umpiring legend Chris Guice, who James thinks must have umpired about 5000 games in the state. Then there’s Chris Kamolins from Melbourne, who helped James when he was on a scholarship at the AIS and Ben Ryan, a current AFL umpire.
Waldorff cites his biggest influence as state league umpire Aaron Hall, James’ best friend. Together with Aaron, James coaches the states most talented umpires through the Queensland State Umpiring Academy. The experienced umpiring duo mentor young umpires, go through match vision and also focus on personal development.
“It’s very rewarding to give back, it’s definitely something that goes part and parcel with the job that I do on the weekend. It wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t giving back like this because of all the people that have assisted me along the way,” says James.
When Waldorff arrived in Queensland thirteen years ago, he used to get given a simple piece of paper with details of where the match was and what time he’d be umpiring. Now there’s an umpire coach on game day and details are managed via an online scheduling system. There’s a pre-match plan and there’s post-match analysis involving video clips sent using Dropbox.
Umpiring is a demanding business and James does some serious kilometers throughout the season. Waldorff’s GPS watch tells him he’s averaging about 14 kilometers a game, just a couple fewer than an elite AFL midfielder. During pre-season he was running 70 kilometers a week. Despite the heavy workload, the soon to be 150 game umpire is showing no signs of slowing down.
“We’ve just completed some time trials at the end of our pre-season and I’m running as fast as I’ve ever run,” says Waldorff.
After achieving this milestone, Waldorff will no doubt be presented with a well-earned award. Hopefully though, someone among the crowd of friends, family and well-wishers present, remembers to get him a Killer Python.
By Sean Melrose