Article thanks to PORT STEPHENS EXAMINER Written by By Alanna Tomazin
A mum who was the number one touch football referee in the world, a dad who has played for Australia, a son with international caps, and a daughter who referees, coaches, and plays – it’s a family affair.
Meet Sam, John, Alec, and Erin Clark, the Nelson Bay family who are heavily involved with touch football.
“It’s probably something that not many other people will achieve family-wise,” mum Sam said.
Sam first picked up a whistle 20 years ago in the Bay when her husband John was playing at a representative tournament and there was no referee.
“We went to our first match and they were short on referees so I did it and that was pretty much the start of my refereeing career,” she said.
With a knack for it, Sam pushed through the ranks and completed her Level Three refereeing course, before getting to the highest level and becoming the number one referee in the world for six years.
“I was number one from 2009 and retired from reffing and running due to injuries in 2014,” she said.
Despite retiring from running the field, Sam remains associated with Nelson Bay Touch Football, NSW Touch, and Australia Touch where she shares her knowledge and expertise with up-and-coming referees.
“I work on the NSW Board of Referees and Australian Touch and they get me to go to nationals to coach referees right down from club level to elite level,” she said.
Recently she was recognised for her efforts when she was named in the NSW Touch Jubilee Referee for Women’s Open.
“It’s the best of the best they have in the 50 years that NSW Touch has been running,” Sam said.
“I got named as one of the best referees and it’s really big because the other people that were named with me, one is no longer with us and one was the first lady to even start refereeing, so it’s pretty big to get that,” she said.
John said he was proud of his wife and the way she’s inspired their kids to be passionate about sport.
“I’m very proud. She’s been an inspiration to the family and the town, she’s achieved a lot,” he said.
John represented Australia in the 2011 Touch Football World Cup and hung up his boots for a different angle on the field in 2015 with his son Alec.
“When Alec decided he wanted to get serious about refereeing I was at the stage where I was looking for something a little bit different, so I decided to stop playing and go on that journey with him,” he said.
Over the last seven years, both have moved through the ranks at national and international levels and have enjoyed the challenge.
“I found refereeing so much more demanding, you have to be at the game a lot earlier, you’re there first and the last to leave,” John said.
“I’ve found that my fitness level has increased a lot more because you do a lot more running. But it’s a challenge to referee a game, to do it well.
“They say the best game is when a referee is unnoticed and when that happens you feel like you’ve achieved something.”
Alec did his Level One in 2010 to begin following in the footsteps of the family passion.
“I guess it started from there and I love the friends I’ve made, it’s probably what keeps me coming back and I just like the challenge of the game,” he said.
While Erin doesn’t have any elite caps yet, she’s a qualified Level Two referee and helps out locally, where she can.
“I’m still mainly a player, reffing is hard. I prefer playing, maybe a bit later I’ll get more into it but for now, I just ref to help out Nelson Bay when we’re short,” she said.
She said she was proud of her family and what they’ve achieved as referees.
“I’m really proud of them and it’s nice knowing that my family are good referees and well-respected.”
Erin and Alec also praised their mum for her incredible efforts in paving the way for young women in touch football.
“It’s pretty amazing what she’s done and for women in sport, she’s a great role model,” Alec said.
“A lot of females don’t get high up, so it’s pretty amazing that a female has done it in such a male-dominated sport and it’s nice for a lot of the younger girls to look up to,” Erin said.
Sam said she felt grateful for the sport being a part of her family and proud of how they have all embraced it.
“We’ve always been a sporty family and I think it started from back when our kids were on the sideline and we paid them a dollar to run our water just to keep them near the field.
“I think it’s good for them to give back to their community with Alec being so young and pushing through the refereeing ranks and Erin who comes down to coach teams.”