By Ant Wingard
As former Queensland umpire Courtney Gibson set off on a preseason training run along Brisbane’s South Bank with her umpiring peers back in 2015, it’s unlikely a conversation amid training would prove a turning point in her one-time weekend hobby.
Now, she resides in Melbourne after receiving notice she is among an exclusive few selected in the inaugural National Female Umpire’s Academy.
Gibson was no stranger to the art of umpiring during that 2015 preseason. She had already been running the boundary since she was in tenth grade in 2012, but until that run, had done only that.
It wasn’t until fellow umpire and current state umpiring manager, James Waldorff, suggested she try her hand as a field umpire.
“We were running in the preseason and he said, ‘you should come and do some field umpiring – I’ll run with you in your first game,” Gibson said.
“He mentioned the female umpire’s academy and that definitely kick-started the fire.”
For Gibson, the transition from boundary to field officiating was a challenge, but with the support of James and from her peers in Queensland, it was positive and a risk worth taking.
Since then, Gibson has risen rapidly through the Queensland umpiring ranks. After making the state academy in 2017, she officiated in the QAFL as both a boundary and field umpire.
Upon moving to Melbourne, coinciding with her selection in the female umpiring academy, Gibson was appointed to the 2018 National AFL Women’s field umpire panel, umpiring three games this season.
The National Female Umpire’s Academy focuses on fast-tracking umpire development through additional coaching support to complement the existing programs in each state and will be coached by former VFL umpire Russell Davidson.
“I was so shocked because it’s all happened so fast over a period of six months. After the selection into AFLW, and then the selection into the female academy and now starting VFL training, it’s all just happened,” she said on her progress.
“It’s a bit over whelming but it’s a bit exciting.”
Gibson has been coy about her expectations as an umpire but admits refereeing in the AFL will always been a dream.
“It’s all happened so fast; just to take all the opportunities as they come, get as high as I can. I don’t have any expectations or any standard that I should be at, I just want to umpire footy and see what happens.
“AFL is the goal of every umpire. The higher up I can go, the better.”
Despite only umpiring for seven seasons, Gibson, in essence, has been immersed in umpiring her whole life. Her father, Randall Gibson, became a life member into the AFL Umpires Association and officiated 76 AFL games during the 90s.
Randall introduced Courtney to the art in 2012 and has remained a steady influence in her development ever since.
“My dad managed for a few AFLQ representatives to come in and give a speech and organised some sort of skill-based umpiring activities at my school,” Gibson said.
“He has woken me up in the morning really early to go for runs. He’s a field umpire too and as he’s watched me, he’s given me little pointers and given me motivation to keep with it.”
While Gibson isn’t in Queensland anymore, there’s no doubt her progression in the AFL Queensland ranks has left a lasting impression on her as she embarks on her AFL umpiring voyage.
“Because of the support I had in Queensland, I started to learn very quickly from others and it definitely gave me a solid foundation,” she said.
“I can’t thank them enough.”