At just 16, Boundary Umpire Cooper Ranie is powering through the ranks.
Following his AFLW debut in Season 7 Round 1 (Adelaide v Melbourne at Glenelg Oval), the youngster from Darwin is pitting his skills in elite company with gusto. He has hit the track running with four AFLW games so far.
After taking up the whistle at nine, Cooper is now going into his eighth Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) season. He umpired his maiden NTFL Men’s Premier League match at 12, during 2018/19.
Inclusion in the AFLW S7 officials’ panel came on the back of a milestone-laden domestic season. Cooper featured in the 2022 NTFL Men’s Grand Final, and claimed the Golden Whistle and the Best Boundary Umpire (Mike Simpson Award) honours.
He is the sole Boundary Umpire representing Northern Territory in this edition’s AFLW contingent, alongside Emma Stark (Field) and Isabelle Rawsthorne (Goal).
Although initially shocked to hear the news of winning a spot in the AFLW S7 panel, Cooper highlighted the subsequent excitement and how he has learnt to calm down and be ready for the next challenge.
“It’s a step-up. I get to umpire with different people around Australia. Probably, it hit me when I walked onto the ground [for the AFLW Round 1 debut]. You could see the paint on the ground where it has the AFLW logo. That was exciting,” Cooper said.
He has been buoyed by the welcome from the AFLW Umpiring group and the feedback he has received from his formal reviews so far, which he noted have helped fast-track his improvement as a Boundary official.
For Cooper, boundary umpiring has strong family links, and football is a regular conversation over the dinner table.
His parents – Erin and Sean – have been stalwarts in the Northern Territory umpiring scene. While Sean was a Boundary Umpire for almost three decades, Erin has been umpiring for 25 years (initially as a Boundary Umpire, and presently as a Goal Umpire since 2016).
In the 2013/14 season, Erin ran the Boundary for her 100th Premier League match with Sean, who was completing his double ton umpiring landmark in the same game. Cooper’s NTFL Men’s Premier League debut during 2018/19 saw him grouped in the same matchday officials’ panel as Erin.
For their services to Umpiring, both Erin and Sean have been awarded the NTFL Umpires’ Association Life Membership.
Having this family connection to the profession, Cooper said, “They’ve taught me a whole lot. I obviously have my main coaches, but they’ve probably coached me the most.
“They’re down at most of my games and I have learnt a lot of off them before I was able to do it on my own quite easily.”
Cooper recounted his funniest umpiring moment from a Men’s Premier League match, where he accidentally threw the ball forward from the boundary line. The Sherrin hit the scoreboard. It was in front of live cameras!
Besides his umpiring and Year 11 studies, Cooper plays hockey with the Palmerston Saints Hockey Club in the Darwin Hockey League A-Grade Men’s competition. He represented the NT U18 Men’s team in the 2022 Hockey Australia National Championships.
Despite the increased levels of commitment that have come with the AFLW territory, Cooper continues to stay on top his schedules. He has got his calendar organised, and makes good use of his time during his travels to catch up on his assignments.
Erin added, “The conversation with us was just to make sure that he was balancing everything and he was meeting his requirements. But also having that rest time, and being kind to his body, rather than pushing too much. I think we’ve successfully balanced that so far.”
For Erin, seeing Cooper break new grounds in the AFLW has been “amazing to watch”. She first received the news about Cooper’s selection to the S7 panel one the way back from a camping trip.
Having umpired with her son before in the State Leagues, it was a transition from ‘Wow, I am umpiring with my son!’ to a very different perspective, as Erin watched Cooper’s AFLW debut on the big screen at their residence while Sean accompanied him to the Glenelg Oval.
“We were pretty stoked. It was exciting,” Erin said. “He has worked hard to prove himself in the NTFL. Determination and motivation to be the best he can be, is beyond anything. The dedication is amazing. [We are] really proud of him.”
Featured image – Cooper Ranie (image supplied: Cooper Ranie; image credit – AFL Northern Territory/TIO)