The AFLW made history in more ways than one on Saturday night. Not only did Essendon and Hawthorn debut their inaugural teams in front of more than 12,000 people at Marvel Stadium — with the Bombers taking home the chocolates — but the game also featured the youngest umpire to officiate a top-level match.
Clocking in at just 16 years old, Emma Stark has become the youngest person to chuck the lime green and dark grey kit on and run out as a field umpire at the highest level of the sport.
Stark — who also took out the Northern Territory’s Junior Sportsperson of the Year award this year — spoke with The Age before the first bounce about how she felt when she landed the big job.
“I’m so stoked,” she told The Age.
“Literally, when I got the call about my appointment I literally cried.”
She was flown to Melbourne from Darwin with her mum and worked the match alongside her umpiring mentor, John Howorth — something she was particularly fired up about.
“I’m just really excited to umpire with John Howorth in my AFLW game,” Stark said. “Just debuting and having lots of fun and having him by my side, that’s definitely what I’m looking forward to.”
Bloody hell. Imagine the playground chat when you’re sitting around talking about what you’re up to for the weekend.
When I was 16, I was writing pseudo-poetic MSN screen names and teaching myself basic HTML so I could have a music player on my MySpace page. Not running around with a whistle, calling free kicks and throw-ins at one of Melbourne’s biggest stadiums.
Stark began umpiring netball in 2018 — which she started playing when she was eight years old — and made a switch to AFL in 2021 where she is also a staunch player.
She won the Northern Territory Football League’s (NTFL) U15s Girls best and fairest and leading goal kicker medals in 2020/21. Stark then backed it up and took out the TIO NTFL best and fairest medal in the U18s competition this year.
Honestly, it’s so powerful to see young Aussies — girls especially — seeing umpiring as a dream career. The AFL leagues are now at a point where umpires have mascots too, encouraging kids to see the green team as something to strive for and essentially creating a much healthier perspective on one of the toughest jobs in the game.
You do love to see it.