IT will be a difficult to find a field umpire who has bounced more footballs in the Limestone Coast than Terry Walters.
The journeyman controlled 465 A Grade matches across his 40-year career, which covered a golden era of country football.
Despite the decorated career, Walters said he only took up umpiring after injury cut short his playing days.
“Like everyone of that age in the 60’s, I played footy, but I was not overly good at it,” he said.
“In my first game of Under 18’s, I hurt my knee and I repeated the injury in the next game I played.
“I never played another game again.”
After the unfortunate series of events, Walters switched his attention to umpiring and started on the boundary in 1969.
He soon broke into the senior grades, while on Sundays he learnt the art of field umpiring in the juniors.
Walters started to make an impression and officiated five consecutive Under 16 grand finals.
However, his first senior field appointment arrived unexpectedly in 1974.
“In a B Grade match between East and West Gambier, the field umpire got badly injured by a player,” Walters said.
“The ruckman jumped over the top of the umpire and got his teeth in his head.
“There was blood everywhere and the umpire was carried off on a stretcher.
“Because there was only one field umpire back then, they said one of the two boundary umpires had to do it.
“The other guy said ‘I am not doing it’, so I stepped in.”
Walters did not look back and made his A Grade central debut later that year, but received a similarly confronting experience.
“In my first A Grade match I did not have another field umpire supporting me and one of the coaches followed me around all day and did not shut up,” he said.
“But I did not go home thinking I will never do it again.
“I just thought that is what it is about and you have to work hard.”
The developing umpire certainly put his head down and tried his best to rise up the pecking order.
Walters said umpire training was a fierce, but friendly environment.
“It was very competitive,” he said.
“We had more than 70 umpires on the training track each night.
“When we ran 1500m, it was on for young and old, but there was good camaraderie.”
Even in his downtime, Walters was a committed individual.
On non-umpiring days, he was seen running up to the Centenary Tower and around the Valley Lake.
Walters also maintained a disciplined diet and did not touch alcohol from the moment he started training on new year’s day until the grand final was completed.
When he was making a name for himself in the 70’s, Walters was lucky enough to pick the brains of some of the finest field umpires to officiate the game.
Each weekend, four VFL umpires would take the long taxi trip from Melbourne to get picked up by a South East official.
Walters said he learnt a lot chatting to some of the top umpires of his time.
“The car trips were half the fun because all you talked about was footy,” he said.
“To run with the likes of Glenn James, Bill Deller, Ian Robinson, Peter Cameron and John Russo was something I treasure.”
At the age of 26, Walters finally broke through and umpired his first A Grade grand final in 1977.
He went on to officiate five Western Border, seven Kowree Naracoorte and three Mid South East grand finals during his career.
Walters said the buzz of walking on the big stage never ceased to amaze him.
“The Western Border games in particular attracted huge crowds,” he said.
“They were so big I needed a reserved park just to get in the ground.
“So many people wished me luck and I was interviewed a few times because the games were televised in those days.”
Walters continued to be a weekly fixture into the 90’s and in 1994, he racked up his 400th A Grade match.
“For my 400th game I was given the option to choose where I wanted to umpire and both teams formed a guard of honour as I walked out,” he said.
After running around football fields for four decades, it was actually an easy decision for Walters to hang up the whistle.
“The last year I umpired the Kowree Naracoorte grand final at Bordertown I struggled to sprint, so I knew something was up,” he said.
“At that stage my knee was giving me trouble and my hips were worn out too.
“Shortly after I had my first hip replacement.”
Once his on-field days were over, Walters received multiple honours including a services to Australian football certificate from the SANFL in 2008 and an Australian Sporting Achievement award from the Queen in 2000.
He continued to be a familiar face around the region’s football grounds, as he acted as a mentor for his fellow Kowree Naracoorte Tatiara umpires.
Walters also coached the Western Border officials for three seasons until finally calling it a day after the 2013 season.
However, he still teaches young field umpires around the Limestone Coast, while he also managed the Mount Gambier Pioneers for seven years and is a life member of the Gambier Tennis Club.
Despite achieving everything under the sun as an umpire in the Limestone Coast, Walters never had any ambitions to take his hobby further.
The highest level he umpired was interleague, but looking back the 68-year-old has no regrets.
“I would have loved to (go to Adelaide), but I had a young family and Mount Gambier was home,” Walters said.
“So I thought I would make the most of that and my wife Wendy has been my rock the whole way through.
“If I had my time again, I would not have done much different.”