During the next few weeks, media attention will turn to the 2017 AFL International Cup which will be held in Melbourne through early to mid-August.
Most, if not all, coverage will be on the teams of male and female footballers from countries all over the globe, who are coming down under to play our indigenous game.
However, one group that could be easily overlooked, but deserves as much attention, is those that make every game possible: the umpires.
One of those making the trip is Iowa-born Minnesota resident, and current USAFL field umpire, Laurie Rupe.
Like many who discover our great game on foreign shores, Rupe found out about Aussie rules through word of mouth.
“I got involved through friends,” Rupe said.
“Years ago, I was on vacation with them, and they were telling me about this fantastic sport that they played in Minnesota called Australian rules football.
“I ended up going to check it out with them and fell in love with the sport, and now I can’t imagine my life without Aussie rules.”
From there, Rupe played with the Minnesota Freeze for a couple of years and would have played longer, but an injury two years ago would see her involvement in footy take a different path.
“I started playing, so that was how I got into the sport, but then I tore my ACL in 2015.
“Then I just had a feeling my playing days were probably over at that point, but I really wanted to stay involved with the sport because I love it, I had made a lot of friends through it and it was just a great way to stay active.
“That’s how I ended up looking into umpiring and I don’t think I would have necessarily looked at it, had I not been injured, so it’s kinda funny how things happen in life sometimes, but that’s how I got into umpiring.”
For born and bred Australians, the rules of the game come to us naturally, having grown up with the sport – although sometimes the differing AFL interpretations can leave us scratching our head.
Imagine now how hard it is for someone who hasn’t lived and breathed the game since birth, and isn’t surrounded by the game as we are in Australia, to memorise the rules and enforce them.
The challenge doesn’t faze Rupe, who continues to learn and perfect her craft.
“I’ll be honest, I still learn stuff every time I go out an umpire,” Rupe said.
“It’s a never-ending learning process for sure, but basically I just jumped in.
“I didn’t know any better, and I figured I was going to make mistakes, but I was going to learn along the way, and each game I was going to get a little bit better, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
“I’ve also spent a lot of time reading the rule book, which I know to some people sounds just agonising, but I figured that’s what I needed to do to become a good umpire.”
Rupe’s hard work at regional and national tournaments in the USA hasn’t gone unnoticed, earning a place in an umpires’ exchange with AFL Europe, resulting in her umpiring at the AFL European Champions League tournament earlier in the year in the Netherlands.
“The USAFL Umpires Association is actively starting an exchange program with AFL Europe and their umpires’ association.
“We feel that there are a lot of things that both leagues can learn from each other, and we think that there’s a lot of benefit.
“There’s a lot of people who grew up in Europe, or grew up in the US, that have now got involved in the sport, so we just felt like that there was a ton of opportunity to learn from each other.
“That was the whole point of me going over to Amsterdam to umpire over there, to see how they do it in Europe, how AFL Europe works, how do the teams play, what’s the level of play.”
Keen to learn, and also explore the world a little more, Rupe put her hand up to umpire at this year’s AFL International Cup, and was duly rewarded.
“Every three years the USAFL Umpires Association solicit applications for umpires going down there [to Australia],” Rupe explained.
“Because I’ve never been to Australia before, and with all I’ve been doing for umpiring, and just how much I’ve been enjoying it, there’s no better place for me to go and learn more, and see the sport in person than going to Melbourne.
“I put my name in the hat as one of the umpires to be considered for being selected to go down there, and I got it.
“I’m essentially going to be the female representative of the USAFL Umpires Association down there and I’m very excited for the opportunity.”
Now Rupe counts down the days until she’s not only on Australian soil, but also raises the football aloft, blows the whistle and gets the action underway.
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