Fifty years of netball service rewarded

Recognised . . . Balclutha’s Liz Freeman was acknowledged for her tireless efforts for umpiring and netball with a 50›year trophy at a recent prize giving at the Cross Recreation Centre. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Losing an eye did not deter one Otago woman’s love for netball.

Liz Freeman, of Balclutha, was recently recognised for her 50 uninterrupted years of umpiring and service in netball.

She has played and umpired netball since she was marching in high school, and played until she had her two children. She now umpires games alongside junior umpires who are starting out and loves managing primary school youngsters into the ways of the umpiring world.

But it has not been all fun and games for the passionate umpire.

‘‘I found out that I had Coats Disease, which is a retinal detachment in my eye. As well as that, I had a range of other fun things which ended up in the removal of my eye in 1996,’’ Mrs Freeman said.

The incident did not dampen her passion for the game. She was back for the next season of the sport and continued to umpire keen netballers on Saturdays.

‘‘I think it’s my most significant quality. I can safely claim myself to be the only one-eyed umpire in South Otago, and I can still catch everything on the court,’’ she joked.

She was awarded a life membership for South Otago netball in 2013 and had also received a Netball South Service Award.

Mrs Freeman noted the changes and highlights of South Otago netball over her years.

‘‘One of my favourite memories was definitely getting the internal courts and the building of the [Cross] Recreation Centre for Balclutha. I remember we used to have the outdoor courts and during those winter mornings we’d be out beating ice off the court so the kids could play netball,’’ she said.

‘‘I also remember being the sole umpire before they had dual umpires on each side of the court. We would have to run around the entirety of the courts, which was more than a good jog. It was a big relief when they introduced dual umpires.’’

‘‘Rules have also definitely changed over the years. There tend to be changes when the World Cup is on, so we might see some more changes next year.’’

She acknowledged her husband Raymond and her family for supporting her many hours spent umpiring over the years.

‘‘I definitely couldn’t have done it without their support. I remember taking the kids when they were young in prams and I would get them or someone around to push the wee ones while I was busy,’’ she said.

She said her passion for bringing new umpires into the game remained undiminished.

‘‘These are kids I have seen around the Recreation Centre when they first start playing, and then I get to continue to educate and let them grow through both the sport and umpiring.’’

‘‘Umpiring has always given me a great buzz, and I’m definitely not stopping yet.’’