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Two VAFA umpires along are part of a group of seventeen young umpires who have been given the chance of a lifetime after being inducted into AFL Victoria’s 2013 ‘Mates’ Program.
The program, now in its eighth year, pairs AFL field umpires with up and coming whistle blowers to help in their development and provide them with a first-hand look at what it takes to officiate at the elite level.
AFL umpires’ coach Rowan Sawers launched the program at a special function Monday night which gave the seven participating AFL field umpires a chance to meet the budding umpires who they will be mentoring in 2013.
The lucky members of the VAFA umpiring community are Kit Harvey and  Luke Andree who will be guided by AFL Umpire Chris Donlon as part of the program.
Over the duration of the season, the young officials, who range between the ages of 16 and 25, will speak regularly with their AFL mentor and develop their umpiring game plan.
Sawers, who has been the AFL Umpires’ coach for 16 years after retiring with 431 senior games under his belt, said the program was extremely beneficial for all parties involved.
“The feedback we get from the ‘Mates’ Program is always really positive,” Sawers said.
“The best example is Troy Pannel, who has been involved for a number of years and sees it as a great opportunity to give back to grass roots football.”
The AFL umpires will get together with their ‘mates’ four or five times for the year and speak to them regularly about all facets of umpiring and the challenges that come with it.
Along with Pannel; Ray Chamberlain, David Harris, Shane McInerney, Shane Stewart and Jason Armstrong will be involved this year, passing on their experience to a new group of eager young umpires.
“I think having someone with experience at the highest level to help guide you, and teach you along with your umpiring coaches, is a terrific opportunity,” Sawers said.
McInerney, a veteran of 355 AFL games, said he was thrilled to be involved in the program again.
“This is my fifth year as a mentor and it’s great to be working with guys who are just starting their umpiring career,” he said.
“The young guys have been nominated by their leagues as umpires who have potential and are always really enthusiastic.
“Not only are they prepared to listen to the advice you have but more importantly prepared to put that advice into action,” said McInerney.