Plate prowess leads to top honours

    Softball New Zealand umpire Jill Farquhar, of Invercargill, umpires at the 2019 SNZ women's open club championships in Wellington. Photo: Paul Hodgson/Softball New Zealand

    A SOFTBALL New Zealand umpire Jill Farquhar really knocked one out of the park when she achieved her Level 6 National Umpire accreditation.

    Her achievement has taken 10 seasons, travelling tens of thousands of kilometres, countless weekends of time and umpiring more than 600 games to attain her goal.

    Level 6, the most senior level required to umpire regional, national and international tournaments in New Zealand, had a vigorous assessment process.

    As well as learning an ever-changing 130-page rulebook, pass a theory exam, and umpire a minimum of 40 games at Level 5, three assessors tested her skills on more than 100 criteria at the Women’s Open competition earlier this year before ratifying her accreditation.

    The absence of a lower South Island women’s premier division, meant games need to be hosted in Auckland, Hutt Valley and Christchurch.

    “If I want to do premier women’s events, I have to jump on a plane to do it because we don’t have it down here.

    “It’s a lot of fly up Friday, come back Sunday night. But the direct Auckland flight has made access to those tournaments easier for me.”

    Southern Institute of Technology has provided Farquhar, as its part-time School Business and Management tutor, with the support and flexibility needed for her frequent weekend travel to other centres.

    Otahuhu’s Wayne Roper Tournament and South Island Championships in Christchurch, are also regular features on her busy September to March calendar.

    Jill Farquhar has recently achieved her Level 6 National Umpire accreditation. Photo: Toni McDonald

    She expects her next trip to Hutt Valley Saints in November, for her 8th Benny Luke Memorial tournament, to be especially exciting as Junior White Sock coach Kiri Shaw will be attending the games for the Junior White Sock trial team selection with three Southland girls eligible for selection.

    “Southland is really punching above its weight in terms of how small we are and in proportion of the young players we’ve got on those squads. It’s exciting to see given there is limited opportunities for the women here.”

    Southland has several clubs, with four girls and five boys being developed at a national development squad level.

    Farquhar was excited to be umpiring at the Southland women’s “action-packed” fast 45 tournament on Thursday evenings this season. The tournament is the work of Amanda Kareati.

    “I messaged Amanda after the first week and said, ‘what an awesome initiative for Softball Southland’.

    “Softball is one of those sports where you can have multiple generations in the same team… I started playing when I was at high school.

    “Umpiring is now my way of giving back to the sport.”

    Her career started after a constant plate-umpire gap needed to be filled. At that time, there was only one National-level umpire in Southland.

    “We now have eight, four are female.”

    Farquhar felt fortunate she had been able to develop her skills under the guidance of former Southland chief umpire Don Poy.

    She hoped more assistance and opportunities for regional umpires would be available in the future.

    “I’d like to see a formal programme developed for female umpires from smaller regions like here and Otago, to get to tournaments where they can umpire premier women because we don’t have a women’s comp at all here in Southland.

    “I would also like to see a Softball New Zealand levelled [accredited] umpire of every game here in Southland rather than relying on players to umpire their own games, which they [sometimes] have to do.”

    Plate-umpiring for the 2020 South Island Men’s Provincial Championship was still fresh in her memory.

    Standing directly in the path of a ball travelling more than 125kph is not for the faint-hearted and requires multiple forms of protective gear.

    “Bruises will still be inflicted despite wearing layers of protective equipment,” Farquhar said.

    “To be fair, in the higher grades you get hit less because the pitchers are hitting their spot. I’m more likely to be covered in bruises from a kids’ game,” she said with a laugh.

    The sport was still heavily reliant on skilled umpires to accurately call the game. Decisions needed to be made in micro-seconds.

    “You learn to trust your eyes. It comes from being in the right position.

    “We don’t have the TMO [Television Match Official] – we just have the sideline.

    “Umpiring is the only job where you’re expected to be perfect the first time and then get better.”

    Farquhar said her role as the Base-3 umpire for the 2020 National Fast-pitch Championship Women’s final, broadcast live on Sky TV, was her most satisfying achievement to date.

    While giving a eulogy for 21-year-old former Tigers team member Jayden Johnston, who had died suddenly the previous week, would definitely be the most difficult undertaking, as his death had profoundly impacted so many players, she said.

    Farquhar has made a significant contribution to Softball New Zealand’s Pathways committee in developing its umpiring framework and evaluation standards.

    She believed her tutoring role, in the past four years, had provided a natural platform to work from to develop umpire workbooks for SNZ levels 1-3.

    The workbooks aim to provide the skills and knowledge emerging umpires will need to be proficient, at the regional level.

    “SIT have given me a research abatement to help me to develop these workbooks for the Pathways Committee because it strengthens ties with the community.”

    Achieving the highest possible accreditation, Level 7, will only come via invitation from the World Baseball Softball Confederation. It would allow her to umpire international competitions, tours and world cups.

    “If I had started earlier, I could be at the world series level by now.

    “That may be the next step. But I’ll just stop at a Level 6 for a while,” she said with a grin.

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