Participating in 300 games is a momentous occasion for anybody, but doing it as an umpire is all the more impressive.
Ben Thiele has been umpiring in the Yarra Junior Football League for over 10 years and this past Sunday he accomplished his 300th game umpired.
Beginning in the Camberwell Grammar Academy while he was in year eight, Ben learnt his craft by running the boundary lines in all his games. Only when it came to the final round of the year was Ben trusted to step up to the plate and take his position as field umpire. “That was pretty exciting, towards the end of the year, they chucked me into a game as field umpire. So, then I sort of went from there” Ben said.
Not a player himself, except for a short stint in Auskick when he was young, Ben has umpired eight grand finals over his ten years and is now considered one of the most senior umpires in the YJFL. Ben often takes on coaching roles in the League during training nights and is the go-to umpire for the higher age groups.
For Ben, it is really the people who he works with that make the experience as exceptional as it is. “I like just working with the kids (players), but also working with the younger umpires and all the other umpires, they’ve got a group of guys who get on really well and we really enjoy umpiring together. It is much more enjoyable to come down and umpire with them.”
Ben with YJFL CEO Tim Murray
Amidst all the fun there are some tougher parts to umpiring. After COVID cancelled the 2020 season, umpiring numbers around Victoria have struggled and the YJFL has been no different. The League has found that a good influx of first year umpires have started, but many of those with experience who would umpire the older age groups have finished their careers and moved on. “It’s always difficult” Ben explained. “It’s been hard. We’ve lost a lot of umpires over COVID and the numbers are a bit lower and getting that experience back has been a bit tough.”
Ben’s umpiring mentor, John Taylor is highly complementary of his exemplary student. “Ben is now a fixture in the top age groups and has also taken on a coaching role within the umpiring team. Ben had been a great contributor to the umpiring team for many years now and is enjoying his role coaching the younger umpires,” said John. “Ben started his journey with the Ashburton group that is now the Lynden Park group and moved his way up through the age group ranks to now be a highly trusted contributor to the team.”
John has also been highly influential to Ben’s umpiring career. The lead coordinator and mentor to the young umpires, John would and still does teach Ben from his many years of experience. “He’s been the coach and the coordinator down at the Ashburton and Lynden Park group. He’s watched me all the way through, he kept telling me to talk louder and to try and be more confident. He’s really sort of followed me all the way through.”
The YJFL umpiring group has been lucky to welcome AFL umpires Matt Stevic and Nick Brown to their training nights many times this year. This initiative from the AFL has been a wonderful way for the up and comers to learn from the best in the business. “It’s been good to have them down this year. They’ve been amazing assistants and it’s been great to learn off the experience from those guys.”
One to be always humble, Ben out of interest started to count his games umpired and stumbled upon this great achievement. “I just tally up my games sort of by myself and I saw that I was coming up to three hundred. I’m like, oh, OK.”
When asked if he could continue and achieve a further 300 games, Ben joyfully proclaimed, “absolutely, definitely. I’ll keep going.”
The YJFL congratulates Ben Thiele and this tremendous achievement of reaching 300 games and we wish him all the best for the next 300.
New umpires in the YJFL are always welcome, please head to yarrajfl.org.au/umpire-registration/ for more information.