IT’S a long and difficult path to earn a netball umpire’s A-grade badge, but few would have done it tougher than Bendigo’s Bree Bentley.
Faced with serious injury and hour-upon-hour travelling to Melbourne to officiate countless matches, Bentley never lost sight of her goal to umpire at the highest level possible.
If anything, those obstacles made it even more satisfying when she was recently elevated to the second-highest umpiring grade.
“Absolutely it is,” Bentley said. “I’ve had an injury-interrupted path to get there and you can only receive your A-grade badge through umpiring the state league, the Victorian Netball League, so I have had to travel down there once a week.”
After her fourth ankle reconstruction in 2008, which ended her Australian tumbling career, Bentley thought her netball umpiring and playing days might be over.
“They actually told me I wasn’t allowed to run, they told me I had to avoid all impact on my feet,” she said.
“It took me six months to run without a limp and about 12 months to run without pain. I have limited movement now, but it’s pretty good.”
Bentley first blew the whistle as a six-year-old in the Golden City Netball Association, where she got her C-grade badge aged 12.
It’s taken her 17 years to move up to B and now A-grade, and she’s emulated her mother Pam, who inspired her to umpire.
“I saw the opportunities that mum had as an umpire, she got to officiate a grand final of Country Cup, which back in the day was the premier event of regional centres,” Bentley recalled.
“The grand final was telecast, so back then seeing mum on the telly as an umpire was kind of cool.
“Mum retired from umpiring in 1996, when I was in year seven. We umpired a grand final together at Ovens and Murray and after that game she decided if I’m umpiring with my daughter, it’s time (to retire).”
Bentley is the first umpire in the region since Jacinta Fisher 13 years ago to become an A-grade umpire and her desire to improve still burns strong.
This year, she’s umpired VNL championship for the first time and has set her sights on achieving her AA badge.
“As much as my husband would like it not to be, my goal is to get my AA, which is what the umpires at the ANZ Championship and the world championships have,” she said.
“It could take two years, it could take 10, I might never get there. But it would be nice to represent Australia at two different sports.”