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Why we love our officials- Heather O'Hagan

Heather O’Hagan – Age 58 – Chair of the National Officials Committee (Waikato)

How, why and when did you first decide to get involved as an official?

Heather O’Hagan: When my children started competing with the Paeroa club I took them to their first ribbon day. Sitting still watching isn’t my thing, so I decided to help out with the discus. As my children later dropped out of the sport I continued because I enjoyed seeing the competitors week after week. When asked why I still do it, the reply is usually “anything is better than house work”.

Can you explain your current status as an official and what your role entails?

Heather: As well as being WBOP’s official’s co-ordinator and trainer, I am one of ANZ’s five ATO (Area) officials appointed by Oceania Athletics. At the ANZ Track and Field National Champs this means I am often watching various events, reporting back to the technical delegate on any problems and being available to the referees for advice. I have also acted as Technical Delegate at ANZ Combined Events Championships- ensuring that the events run according to the IAAF requirements. I seem to be doing more meet management roles now. I have recently been appointed as the Chair of ANZ’s National Official’s Committee and one of the main functions of this committee is to ensure we are training good quality officials which will ensure that we can run good competitions.


What are your favourite three things about being an official?

Heather: Watching the development of athletes as the season progresses. The camaraderie of working with other officials and recording the measurements at a throwing event because I enjoying both watching the event and the having close contact with competitors.

What is the most challenging aspect to your role?

Heather: Getting people to work together for the common goal, which enables the athletes to achieve the results they want. This might be to try to get a throws team to work efficiently, for the meeting management to flow or to encouraging the vaguely interested to get involved.

Do you feel there is a clear pathway for officials’ development?

Heather: Yes, for those interested. The biggest frustration is the difficulty securing “places” for our NZ officials to attend the highest level of courses and assessments. One barrier to the pathway is the personal cost in both time and money.

Why would you encourage the younger generation to become involved as an athletics official?

Heather: Being an official is the “best seat in the house”. Not everyone with an interest in the sport can achieve at a high level, but encouraging less able athletes into officiating side keeps them in contact with the sport. 

What is your most treasured memory as an official?

Heather: Being on the spike at the Athletics NZ Champs senior women’s shot put the first time Val (Adams) passed the 20m mark in competition – I knew it before anyone else did!

Why we love our officials- Jenny Ferris

Jenny Ferris – Age 45 – Regional Officials Co-ordinator (Northland)

How, why and when did you first decide to get involved as an official?

Jenny: The late Colleen Brunker, who was involved with Northland Masters, would ask all of us young athletes (Jenny was one of Northland’s top middle-distance runners) each year to help with the Masters pentathlon. She would say “us oldies help you all year and it would be really great if you could come along and helped us for a change”. She was so lovely there was no way we could say no. We would all turn up and help and it was a really enjoyable day. This is how I got started in officiating.

Can you explain your current status as an official and what your role entails?

Jenny: I have a B grading – which means I can officiate as a chief at track and field events for track, jumps and throws and a C grading for Walks. I am also the officials’ coordinator for Northland, where it is my role to encourage people to officiate and become graded Athletics New Zealand officials.

What are your favourite three things about being an official?

Jenny: When you officiate at major events you get fed! The second thing is meeting lots of amazing people with like-minded interests. Thirdly, I love the fact as officials we are close up to the action.

What is the most challenging aspect to your role?

Jenny: Probably one of the most challenging things for me as an official is that one day I would like to become an A grade official. However, to achieve that I need to officiate at a number of large meetings – which can often mean an expensive five-hour round trip to Auckland from my Northland home  There is funding available for coaching but only very limited funding available to help train officials. The other challenging aspect to my role as officials’ coordinator for Northland is a real shortage of officials. If there are any officials reading this who would like a change of scenery Northland is a great place to live!

Do you feel there is a clear pathway for officials’ development?

Jenny: There is a very clear pathway for official’s development in New Zealand, but it’s a case of making sure that people know about the pathway. Now that I’m the Officials Co-ordinator for Northland it’s up to me to ensure that people know about this pathway.

Why would you encourage the younger generation to become involved as an athletics official?

Jenny: I am passionate about encouraging secondary school athletes to give something back to the sport by having a go at officiating. It also is beneficial for them as it gives them a greater understanding of the rules. I’m always amazed at how the young athletes in our club LJ Hooker Athletics Whangarei are prepared to give up their time to help out. Last year I was asked if I could help find officials to help out at a Special Olympic event in Whangarei. I had so many young athletes from our club wanting to help I had to turn some of them away.

What is your most treasured memory as an official?

Jenny: I was starter for the 100m at the Northland champs. It was one of our first races on our new all-weather track, but I started them in the wrong place and they all ended up running the 110m instead.  Two of Northlands top coaches were at the start line of the 100m as well as numerous athletes who regularly competed outside Northland on all-weather tracks and none of them had realised the race was being started in the wrong place! The athletes only realised at the finish when they were all complaining about their slow times. I was absolutely mortified by my mistake but I couldn’t help but see the funny side as well. All officials make mistakes at some stage, but as long as you take the opportunity to learn from your experiences it can only make you a better official.

Why we love our officials- Louise Evans McDonald

Louise Evans McDonald – Age 48 – Local organising committee NZ Track & Field Championships

How, why and when did you first decide to get involved as an official?

Louise: Like many officials, my involvement started while watching my son compete at a children’s interclub, and someone asked me to help out. That was nine years ago. Quick to seize on an opportunity the chief judge invited me to help out at the senior meets on Saturday afternoons. I really enjoyed learning about the technical rules of each event, and I realised how important it was to ensure that our athletes had knowledgeable and qualified officials providing a consistent and accurate level of judging. 

Can you explain your current status as an official and what your role entails?

Louise: My current status is National Technical Official (NTO). As an NTO there is an expectation that I am proficient to essentially do any role in any of the disciplines, and to be able to do this at least to chief judge level. This requires me to ensure that I rotate around different events to apply my knowledge, but also to be challenged with different scenarios that may occur. 

What are your favourite three things about being an official?

Louise: Seeing athletes achieve – whether it’s a PB, qualifying standard or a record. Constantly learning and the camaraderie I enjoy with my fellow officials – I have developed some great friendships over the years and there is always an endless supply of yarns about different situations that have occurred, and what decisions were reached/applied.

What is the most challenging aspect to your role?

Louise: The most challenging thing for me is to get greater/varied exposure to international events as the ability to travel to such meets is limited by budget and work commitments. To further my knowledge I am targeting two events offshore per year, but at the moment these will most likely be within the Oceania area. 

Do you feel there is a clear pathway for officials’ development?

Louise: I think my progression is an example of an applied pathway in action. I was fortunate to have mentors assist me along the way, but the key thing is that as/when I was ready to learn more, the opportunities were there. The pathway framework is being strengthened with more tools for both the developing official and the mentors and this will reap great benefits for the sport.

Why would you encourage the younger generation to become involved as an athletics official?

Louise: Succession planning is vital for our sport, and we need fresh perspectives and enthusiasm. The younger an official commences, the greater the opportunity of developing to the highest level. Why get involved? Stretch your thinking, be part of the action (and sometimes history), support our sport and have fun!

What is your most treasured memory as an official?

Louise: When one of my colleagues split their trousers while raking the long jump pit at a World Championship event which was being televised by Sky Sport. Fortunately for them, they had dark undies on!

Why we love our officials- Jim McIIroy

Jim McIlroy - Age 52 –Regional Officials Co-ordinator (Wellington)


How, why and when did you first decide to get involved as an official?

Jim: I was spending more time at athletics tracks supporting my daughter, so when my wife spotted an ad for an officials’ course she suggested I attend. The course was on a Saturday morning and I found myself unexpectedly sitting an exam after the course finished and by Saturday afternoon I was officiating at Newtown Park. I was put on throws with a great bunch of guys, who continue to support and pass on knowledge to me.

Can you explain your current status as an official and what your role entails?

Jim: I am a National Technical Official (NTO) and the Regional Officials Co-ordinator for the Wellington/Wairarapa region. As an NTO I look to officiate at as many events as I can fit in during the summer months across the central region as well as at national events across the country. As a regional co-ordinator I am responsible for recruiting and training officials in my region. When National events are held in the Wellington region, I co-ordinate appointments. 

What are your favourite three things about being an official?

Jim: I enjoy the sport, and the pureness of the competition. I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy learning about each competition and the management of an athletics meeting. I find it rewarding to be part of a team of officials who have played their part in the running of a good competition.

What is the most challenging aspect to your role?

Jim : Recruiting officials

Do you feel there is a clear pathway for officials’ development?

Jim: In my case, yes. I was keen to progress and my Wellington colleagues kept me informed of what to do next. At a National level, I have been both supported and provided with opportunities to develop.

Why would you encourage the younger generation to become involved as an athletics official?

Jim: You are afforded a close view of the action, you develop a range of skills and if you desire officiating can take you all the way to the world stage.

What is your most treasured memory as an official?

Jim: Officiating on shot at my first national championships when Valerie strode into the circle, the IPC World Championships in Christchurch, Officiating on the Men’s pole vault at a Perth Track Classic, officiating when Phil Jensen is competing in the hammer.
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