Akok making his mark

Ben Akok (supplied)

Tara Murray

As Ben Akok stands between the goals for Riddell District Football League senior match between the Western Rams and Romsey on Saturday it will be a special occasion.

Akok, who is in his second season of umpiring, was making his senior debut. As well as being new to umpiring, Akok has cerebral palsy.

“I’m very excited to be umpiring my first senior match, before being told that I will be umpiring a senior match it did not come to mind at all so I was not expecting it,” he said before the match. “I’m looking forward to it.

“When I was a kid being an AFL umpire is one of the many things that I said I wanted to do and last year I find a Facebook post by the AFL on becoming and an umpire I filled out the online form and few days after got an email from Riddell Umpires inviting me to training and welcoming me to the team.”

Before getting involved in umpiring he had only been involved in football twice. He played at half time of an AFL match in 2011 and played one year in an interschool sport game in secondary college.

For Akok he said his biggest challenge was the pressure he put on himself to make sure he gets everything right.

He said with his cerebral palsy, it meant he had to concentrate more than others do with umpiring.

“Due to my poor balance I need to use more mental energy than others to make sure I don’t fall when moving between the posts,” he said.

“Sometimes I’m moving slower and getting tired faster than others but I’ve seen a big improvement in myself compared to when I first started.”

Akok said he wanted to go as high as he could with umpiring as he could and said he could see himself umpiring in the AFL in the future.

He encouraged other people to get involved in umpiring.

“I see no limit [to what I achieve], I just need to put in the work,” he said.

“Not only do I see myself as a role model for people with different abilities in just getting involved in umpiring, but I believe I’m a role model to everybody as I know anyone can do and achieve anything no matter their ability or where they come from. It all starts with believing in themselves first.”

Riddell Umpires president Addam Icely said Akok had really taken to umpiring and they were proud of what he had done so far.

“Ben arrived for pre-season in 2021 after registering his interest on the AFL Vic website,” Icely said

“He was very keen to learn and was able to learn at a rapid rate. Ben’s development improved to the point in early 2021, goals coach Richard Patterson approached me stating given Ben’s rapid improvement, he wanted to put Ben in a game and the rest as they say is history.

“Ben is always eager to continue to improve and learn his craft on the training track. He always has a beaming smile on his face and is much loved amongst his colleagues.”