THE showcase opening of Bendigo Stadium was the embodiment of country basketball in every aspect of the night.
For the debut SEABL match on the magnificent 4000-person show-court, three female country referees were brought together to officiate the inaugural game, between Bendigo and Sandringham.
It has been a rare occurrence within Australia’s elite basketball leagues to have three country female referees work the same game. However, the success of country pathways and development programs in recent years has enabled more and more country women to work their way into the high-calibre leagues of Victoria and beyond.
Bianca Vernon (Southern Peninsula), Tayla Flint (Bendigo) and Leanne Burton (Bendigo) were given the opportunity to stand as the first referees on the court and tip-off the very first game.
For Bianca Vernon, the chance to officiate the debut match on the new show-court was a fantastic opportunity, especially as she refereed alongside two fellow female country referees that she truly admires.
“It was awesome – it was a really good atmosphere and it was really great as I’m good friends with those two girls and really look up to them,” Vernon said. “To be on a big game for opening the stadium it was just awesome.”
It’s not often we have stadia of this capacity and scale opened in country basketball, which made it all the more exciting for the players, coaches, supporters and referees alike who flocked to Bendigo Stadium on Friday night.
“It created a really good atmosphere having all four sides of the seating full of fans,” Vernon said. “Everything was fresh, it felt really good to run on and the crowd really got involved – it really was great fun to be a part of it.
“It’s a beautiful stadium and it’s something I’d love to see something like that down at my home courts.”
For Vernon it’s her first season officiating at the SEABL level and she’s relished the opportunity of stepping up and gaining further opportunities within her refereeing career.
The development and growth of female referee pathways within country and metropolitan Victorian associations has enabled her to aim for these leagues and she’s grateful for the chances she received along the journey.
“There have definitely been more opportunities for female referees especially with the pathways through country,” Vernon said. “Just in general the community of referees have been really supportive of me – I got to go to some really good tournaments like the Albury Cup and all the country events along the way.
“Going to those events gets you a lot of great ref-coaching and refereeing support – a lot more than you can get just from having the one game.
It’s helped me a lot going through the pathway and there are now great opportunities to step up on to the senior panels.”
It all comes back to support and Vernon feels the refereeing community has plenty to share as everyone works together on and off the court
“Refereeing community in country is really supportive and everyone is there to help you and help you improve,” Vernon said. “The support I’ve gotten throughout has helped me go for the next level.
“There are a lot of people out there helping me out where I’ve needed it – great people around you like Karin (Berrysmith) and a lot other great referees within the community I can call and get some advice from in regards to my refereeing.”
Bendigo won the inaugural game on the show-court 92-60.