While football and netball teams gear up for the business end of the season, there is another group of often forgotten yet crucial members who are also busy preparing.
The region's umpires have been busy getting ready for September action, hoping to make things as smooth as possible at the most important time of the sporting season.
In years gone by, football umpires from the Wimmera would ply their trades elsewhere across the state. Nowadays, those umpires stay within the region they have umpired with all season.
AFL Wimmera-Mallee umpires manager Howard Schier said measures are put in place throughout the season to ensure no subconscious bias enters into an umpire's mind.
"We make sure we manoeuvre umpires, so they don't see the same team too often or are umpiring with the same umpire too often," he said.
"I keep a spreadsheet on who is umpiring with who and where they are throughout the season. They rotate across both the District and Wimmera leagues.
"Years ago, we used to get Ballarat umpires, but that doesn't happen anymore."
At times, the abuse can hurt. When they start using your name or getting personal, that's when you don't like it, and you can think, 'why am I out here?'- Frank Marklew
Umpiring can often be a thankless task, with passionate supporters making their thoughts heard quite loudly if they believe decisions are not going their way.
Despite grievances being made regularly about umpiring decisions, Mr Schier said the Wimmera-Mallee group umpire at a high standard.
"We were shown stats recently and going on feedback we have from our clubs, our rate of correct decision sits at the same level as the national rate," he said.
"It is promising to see our guys are where they need to be.
"They are always doing the best they can like the players are. In fact, numbers show umpires make fewer mistakes than players do each game."
Frank Marklew is one of the Wimmera's most experienced umpires, with more than 800 games and almost a dozen senior grand finals under his belt.
Mr Marklew said finals brought out some extra emotion.
"For sure you feel a bit of extra pressure - when it reaches finals, all the teams lift, and the umpires have to lift as well," Mr Marklew said. "You can think, 'heck, I'm out here and in control of all these players who are desperately playing for a flag'. It's a lot of pressure on an umpire."
Mr Marklew said the often parochial crowd added to a unique and challenging atmosphere.
"You have to try to just concentrate on the game. You can hear the crowd, but for every decision half of the crowd is going to roar hoping it's their way, and the other half is thinking it's going their way," Mr Marklew said.
"At times, the abuse can hurt. When they start using your name or getting personal, that's when you don't like it, and you can think, 'why am I out here?'
"That's when we start to struggle with getting people to umpire.
"So you have to have a bit of a thick skin for it. You have to turn it off in finals and just concentrate, and not be too worried about what gets said."
Despite the belief umpiring decisions change from the regular season to finals, Mr Schier said there is no instruction to umpires to do things differently, but said one minor change could have an impact.
"In finals, we will always have three system umpires rather than two," he said.
"This means they are seeing a lot more of what is happening. So while they aren't out there to do things differently, different things may be picked up with that extra set of eyes on the field."
It's not just football umpires who have to step up come the business end of the season.
Wimmera Netball Association umpire coordinator Cassandra Haskett said a lot of organising goes into preparing for finals.
"There's probably about 30 umpires involved across the Horsham District and Wimmera leagues," she said.
During the home and away season, it is normal for volunteers to umpire, and despite the best efforts of local umpiring mentors, it is difficult to gain higher umpiring accreditation.
As a result umpires with higher badges often travel from out of town to officiate the big games.
"For the prelims and the grand finals in the higher grades, we try to get qualified people from externally. Umpires with A level badges is what we're looking for," Ms Haskett said.
"We've been fortunate that we've got a lady coming up from Portland this year who also umpires in the Victorian Netball League. So we've got people of a really high standard."
Ms Haskett said it could make all the difference.
"I had a chat to a few experienced A Grade players, some that played last year, and they said they didn't even notice the umpires were there. That means they were doing a really good job," she said. "That's what we're looking for, is that level of real consistency."
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