BENDIGO field umpire Paula Shay has been called many names since she first blew her whistle in a local football match back in 2009.
She ignores most of them, but there is one label the 38-year-old will be more than happy to wear: trail-blazer.
At Backhaus Oval today, Shay becomes Bendigo’s first home-grown female to take control of a senior men’s game when she walks out onto the field for the Loddon Valley league clash between YCW and Mitiamo.
While a handful of other women have officiated here at senior level, she is the only one to go all the way through the Bendigo Umpires Association program.
“Paula is the first to have gone from under-12s, progressing through the grades and finally making it to senior football,” BUA spokesman Mitchell Pitt said.
“She has been performing very strongly in the reserves and under-18 grades for most of the year and, as a result, she now gets her chance in the seniors.”
Shay began running the boundaries six seasons ago to improve her fitness at the suggestion of her central umpire brother.
In 2011, not satisfied with her role outside the lines, she joined the “green shirt” field umpire training scheme.
After cutting her teeth in junior games, she was elevated to the Bendigo Football League under-18 division last year and won the BUA’s most improved field umpire award.
She has also officiated in a VWFL premier match featuring Bendigo Thunder.
Today’s senior game is even more special, given Shay grew up in and played netball for Pyramid Hill, which is part of the LVFL.
“I’ve always aspired to get to the Loddon Valley seniors,” she said, “so this is a really big and important thing for me.
“I want to one day walk out on the field at Pyramid Hill, where I sat on the sidelines watching and yelling at the umpires when I was young.”
Like all men in white, Shay cops weekly criticism from those who disagree with her decisions, but some comments are extra creative.
“Last year I got told to get back to the netball court and back to the kitchen,” she laughs. “This year it’s been nicknames like sweetie, love and even princess. I just completely ignore it.”
Shay urged more females to join the umpiring ranks, saying it was a great way to be involved in the game.