“It’s so good to be back here in Central,” declared Bowls New Zealand Umpire, Ann Wright as she prepares to umpire the final of the Summerset National Women’s Fours at the Alexandra Bowling Club.
“The people are so friendly. And the clubs can’t do enough to ensure people feel welcome and the tournament goes off smoothly.”
Ann should know, She was born up the road at Ranfurly, famous these days as an art deco mini-centre, a stopping place on the Otago Rail Trail, and a settlement close to Ophir - reputedly both the hottest and the coldest place in New Zealand.
“I grew up on a farm nearby, and didn’t leave town until I was sent off to St Philomena’s boarding school in Dunedin for a couple of years,” she says. “I came back to finish off at the Maniototo District School and then became a nurse aide at the local hospital.”
Ann married her best friend and soulmate Gavin in 1968.
“He worked for the railways,” she says. “So we were moved around New Zealand a fair bit before we settled back in Dunedin in 1984.”
“He got me into bowls at the Caversham Bowling Club, but it wasn’t until 1991 that I became interested in umpiring. I found I was a better umpire than a player!”
After the railways made Gavin redundant in 2002, they moved to Christchurch and bought a small business. “Gavin was originally a Cantab, so he was happy to be back in Crusaders country. I remained a Highlanders supporter and stubbornly stick with them today!”
They both joined Bowls Hornby (the former Hornby Working Men’s Bowling Club), where Ann is still a member in 2021 (sadly, Gavin passed away three years ago after 50 years and 3 weeks of marriage).
“It’s a great club. There’s 70 or so members, although only 10-12 of those are women. We’re probably what I’d call ‘Tuesday players’ … we don’t take our bowls too seriously!”
Ann may not have taken playing bowls seriously, but she’s taken her umpiring more and more and more seriously.
She’s a Life Member of the Canterbury Umpires’ Association. But that’s small potatoes, She’s recently been re-accredited for another 5 years as an international ‘Level 4 Umpire’.
“World Bowls grandiosely calls us ‘International Technical Officials’ … there’s 15 of us in New Zealand at the moment I believe.”
Ann loves umpiring (although 95% of us who prefer playing the game can often wonder why!)
She’s got so good at it that she’s been an Umpire at four World Singles Champion of Champions; three Asia Pacific Championships; two World Bowls Championships; and a Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 (see below).
“The highlight has been going to the Comm Games in Delhi. I loved it. Although by our standards, New Zealand didn’t do so well in the bowls. I think Val Smith picked up a silver in the Singles. That was it.”
“I would’ve enjoyed being at the Worlds in Australia, but missed out. They’ve got heaps of their own ITOs over there.“ (60 at last count)
Unfortunately, bowls continues to struggle to get more Ann’s.
One of the reasons for that may be that 99% of umpire appointments are totally voluntary and unpaid.
“But I guess you also have to have the right temperament to spend most of your time just sitting on the bank watching the game. I was only called on three times in the Fours.”
Those calls are likely to be for 3 main reasons.
Firstly, Ann may have to get the callipers or string measure out to see who’s closes to the jack. Secondly, on occasions, she’ll be asked to see whether the jack’s short … it has to be 23 metres from the front of the mat to the front of the jack. And thirdly, she’ll have to sometimes get out her scope (‘boundary liner’) to see whether a bowl’s in or out.
“There’s only the odd player that gets grumpy about the decisions. At other times, I’ve been asked what I drink!” she laughs (it’s rosé!).
Meantime, Ann’s open-minded about the new umpiring technologies.
“They’re playing around with lasers in Australia to do the measuring. We don’t reckon they’re accurate enough yet to take away the callipers, the string, the retractable measure, or the scope, but I imagine they will be some day.”
“Some players are also using the Bowlometer App on their phones. Again, it’s not up there with accuracy, but it’s good for settling a few arguments on the green.”
Off the green, Ann is lucky to have a wonderful family.
“I’ve got a daughter in Australia; one in Dunedin, one in Darfield; and a son in Prebbleton. I get to see my granddaughter and three grandsons in New Zealand, but I cant wait for COVID to be sorted so I can go across to Oz and see my daughter, and my granddaughter and two great grandkids there.”
Unfortunately, that may be a little while yet, Ann.
Ann Wright’s international career at a glance
2006 World Singles Champion of Champions Christchurch, New Zealand
2007 Asia Pacific Championships Christchurch, New Zealand
2008 World Bowls Championship Christchurch, New Zealand
2010 Commonwealth Games Delhi, India
2013 World Singles Champion of Champions Christchurch, New Zealand
2014 World Singles Champion of Champions Christchurch, New Zealand
2015 Asia Pacific Championships Christchurch, New Zealand
2016 World Bowls Championship Christchurch, New Zealand