The Round 16 AFL match between the Western Bulldogs v Fremantle on Saturday 1 July at Marvel Stadium saw another Fiona McBurney Match Day Experience take place.
With the support of Down Syndrome Victoria, the Match Day Experience aims to connect sport and disability by providing a unique experience for individuals to undertake an official guest AFL trainer role for the AFL umpires on match day.
The AFLUA was so excited to welcome 18-year-old Ed Fry to join us as our participant. An avid supporter of the Bulldogs, Ed could not wait to get into the action and meet his heroes on the field.
The day began outside of the stadium where Ed and his dad, Bill, were met by former field umpire, Justin Schmitt, and chaperones Peter Kelly and Michael Sexton. Ed was nothing but smiles as he was being walked through the stadium, and taken out onto the field to meet the field and boundary umpires.
‘‘Is this real?’’, Ed asked in disbelief, the joy on his face lighting up the stadium.
He met with field umpires Rob O’Gorman, Brett Rosebury, Ray Chamberlain and Matt Young, boundary umpires Josh Mather, Damien Main, Lachlan Rayner and Patrick Dineen, and goal umpires Luke Edwards, Stephen Williams and Chelsea Roffey (Emergency), who proudly shook his hand and thanked him for coming in to help for the day. Ed even lived the dream to kick the ball around and met Bulldogs player Cody Weightman.
As warm-ups commenced and players were getting in the zone, we spotted Ed’s favourite player, Bailey Smith, who was more than happy to come and say hello and take a photo with one of his biggest fans.
You could feel the excitement in the air as he led the umpires out into the centre, holding up the ball as the crowds boomed with cheers. Soon it was time for the coin toss and Ed’s time to shine. After the toss, Marcus Bontempelli, Western Bulldogs captain, came and shook Ed’s hand.
“It’s amazing when the players interact with the kids on match day, because it makes the experience even more memorable for them,’ says Rob O’Gorman.
Throughout the rest of the game, he played a vital role in ensuring that the umpires were hydrated and sugared up. But most importantly, Ed brought the most positive energy to the team.
“The Match Day Experience has always been successful because the participants have always been so welcomed by everyone involved in making the day special. But it’s come a long way since we started it,” says Steve McBurney, former field umpire and brother of the late Fiona McBurney, whom the program is named after.
“The program used to have the participants come to watch the game, but it’s evolved into a day where they can come and actively get involved with the umpires on match day, making it memorable for everyone.”
And what a memorable day it was! After the game was over, Ed came back down to the rooms to be presented with a signed shirt from all the umpires and a certificate for participating. With everyone gathered around him, we asked Ed if he had any words after the day he had. He paused, then shouted, “Go Bulldogs!”. The room erupted with laughter and applause for Ed – a fantastic day to wrap up the day.
We were thrilled to hear that Ed came home from the game and told his mum that he had the best day of his life, and we are sure Brett and Ray would love to know that they were his two favourites on the day.
# Article written by Taylor Donlon
# Featured image – (Left to right) Ray Chamberlain, Brett Rosebury, Ed Fry, Matthew Young and Rob O’Gorman during the 2023 AFL Round 16 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Fremantle Dockers at Marvel Stadium. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)