If you mention the name Felicity Di Toro around Gippsland, or to anyone in the netball world for that matter, they are sure to know exactly who you’re talking about.
A household name when it comes to netball umpiring, last week Felicity was recognised for her 30 years of service to netball umpiring through the Gippstar Awards in the Special Achiever Category.
“It’s quite humbling to be recognised for something I do just because I want to give back to the sport,” Felicity explained after receiving her award.
“I do what I do, and have done for many years, without really thinking about it.
“It’s really nice for people to acknowledge what I am doing because as you’re aware we don’t get paid for it. Other sports get paid to do what you do but for us in netball, including myself, it really is to give back and for the future of the sport.”
This isn’t Felicity’s first time being rewarded for her netball dedication. At the end of 2017 she was nominated as a finalist for the Victorian Community Official of the Year at the Victorian Sports Awards.
Having started her netball career at the age of eight years old, Felicity has racked up quite an extensive netball CV. An umpire coordinator at Morwell for a number of years, she then achieved her A Badge in 1980 at what was then known as State League.
“I actually started at Morwell Park Netball Club, then played squad netball, coached at squad and club level, and then of course umpiring which has got me to here you could say.
“I have taken on many roles in my time, especially with my grassroots club Morwell. I took on the marketing manger role and sponsorship manager which allowed me to be a part of the process to pick their current colours and uniform range and bags, all that sort of stuff,
“I wanted to make sure they would be well set up so I took on some financial responsibilities to play my part.”
For over 12 years she travelled from the Latrobe Valley to Melbourne every Wednesday night into the then State Netball Centre, all for her love of umpiring.
Along the way she came into contact with legends of the sport including Vixens coach Simone McKinnis and Australian Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander, who was coaching and playing on court at the time.
For Felicity, it is the memories with mentors that became lifelong friends that she cherishes the most.
“I was fortunate enough to spend a number of years umpiring at State League with Annie Castles and Maureen Gledhill, who I respected and highly regarded and looked to for guidance and advice. We became lifelong friends.
“Post our umpiring careers at this level, and with Annie’s move into her role in Umpire Development at Netball Vic, I then looked to both Annie and Maureen as mentors. I looked up to them with regard to their knowledge and experience, but more importantly, their manner and approach to the development of umpires,
“I hope that I have gone some way to emulating what they have done for umpiring in their areas, in Gippsland.”
Despite Felicity saying she didn’t believe at first she had actually won the Gippstar award, her words on the importance of umpiring and why she does it speak to why the award was made for her.
“I just think it was because I give willingly of my time. I don’t do umpiring because of the money, I still believe I have a lot to give because of my knowledge and my experience,
“It’s about making sure the standard of our netball is reflected by the standard of our umpires,
“It’s about protecting and nurturing our umpires because we don’t want to lose what is such a vital role to the sport.”
“It’s a fairly rewarding thing to see some of these young umpires that have the right values and attitude to take on their role. I make sure my umpires know that even if you’re umpiring the 13 & Under competition, you are delivering the same standards as if it’s an open or an A-Grade.”
For Felicity, there is no near future that doesn’t involve her on the side line of a netball court with a whistle in one hand and umpiring signal in the other.
“At this stage I couldn’t stop. When the day comes that I no longer umpire, I know for sure I will still be involved with umpire development,
“While I can, if I can still get to the goal line and be in the right position I’ll continue to umpire.”