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Throwin' In My Two Cents

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I've been moonlighting as a footy umpire lately.

Well, that may be a slight extension of the truth. I've umpired one and a half games – the ‘half’, the first match I shadowed; the ‘one’, my official debut. Needless to say, I've been going to weekly training sessions for a few months to wrap my head around what feels like the most complex sport in history to officiate.

Despite my initial, unabashed assertion that I could handle being a central umpire with little to no experience, the umpiring panel decided for everyone’s sake to start me off on the boundary. I’ll pay that.

As such, I have found myself regularly assembled with a squad of high school aged boys during practice every Wednesday night. Personally, I have no qualms with this. It’s a good opportunity stay humble and to keep up to date with the haps of the Riverland high school life. I rarely get much of a look in when it comes to gossip, but here is something else I have observed.

Let me preface:

Over the course of my attendance at training, I have gotten to know two brothers. The elder I shadowed during my first match, and the younger I was paired with for drills last week. Both of these kids are far more experienced umpires than I, but both have been equally as supportive of my induction.

Last week we were practicing boundary throw-ins in front of the rest of the group – the senior umpires giving us feedback. As I had my back turned, about to lob the footy over my head (praying the squats would pay off), I hear a soft yet audible declaration of encouragement, to the effect of, “you got this, Paige!!”

It was the smallest gesture from the youngest of the brothers, but it made the biggest difference.

My point? In light of everything the media is dredging up about high school being a horrible place and kids being cruel (cue Netflix: 13 Reasons Why), there are also some really good kids out there. Kids who encourage each other and kids who genuinely want to see their peers succeed. I don't deny the four walls of education as being a difficult place for the young brain to navigate, nor do I think it's a discussion not worth having, but let us not forget that where there is yang, there is also yin.

For a moment there, we zeroed in a little too far on the negatives.

I'll leave you with this final thought. There are no penalties for being nice. While good behaviour should be normalised, perhaps just like bad behaviour, it needs to be highlighted too. To any kid who encourages their mates because they know it comes at no extra cost, YOU are the real MVP.

Originally published in The Murray Pioneer

Paige Leacey