Sparkled on the diamond

July 07, 2017

International softball umpire Margo Koskelainen is an inaugural inductee into the Greater Shepparton Sports Hall of Fame.

Margo Koskelainen in 2003 after her induction into the International Softball Federation’s Hall of Fame.

Margo Koskelainen first became involved in softball as a player in her teenage years.

‘‘I had polio and needed a sport that I could run around for a short time then sit down for a short time,’’ she said.

‘‘I lived across the road from the Australian national coach, Bess Dornan, and she approached my mum.’’

So it was then aged 12 when her love for the sport first began, but it took some time to convince her parents to let her play.

‘‘It was played on Sundays and as most families did on Sunday, we had our church ritual and lunch,’’ Koskelainen said.

‘‘I was an outfielder because I had to run and could throw a bit... we played at Fawkner Park, off St Kilda Rd in the Melbourne Softball Association.’’

In 1968, Margo moved to Shepparton with her husband Karl and two daughters Trudi and Erika.

‘‘The day we moved our possessions to Shepparton, I visited the president of the local competition and became the media officer,’’ she said.

‘‘I also had a regular column in The News and a regular segment on Fridays on the radio.’’

She coached an under-14 team, the Shamrocks, to several premierships before taking on the Rebels club’s A-grade coaching position.

‘‘In 1971 I took up umpiring... they said I’d be good if I learnt the rules,’’ Koskelainen said.

‘‘I had no intention of umpiring, but it was during finals time and they usually had umpires come up from Melbourne, but they couldn’t supply any.

‘‘So I became a part of the umpiring fraternity.’’

Koskelainen said umpires were a different breed and she learned to cop a lot of flak during her illustrious career.

‘‘People sitting at home can watch a replay all day, but we have split second decisions to make,’’ she said.

‘‘I’ve never been paid to umpire throughout my years... the only ever incentive was to be good.’’

Gaining her Victorian accreditation in 1973 and her Australian accreditation in 1975, Koskelainen quickly moved up the ranks.

Her first national umpiring experience was at the Australian Women’s Championships in 1975.

‘‘Umpiring in national competitions is easier because the players know what they’re doing,’’ she said.

‘‘I moved up the ranks due to the fact my rules knowledge was very good.

‘‘I’m the only person that has ever got 100 out of 100 in the theory exam for the national accreditation update.’’

In 1980, the Shepparton Softball Association needed a president and knowing no other way, Koskelainen stepped up to take on the role.

‘‘It was good, the sport of softball was very strong in those days... on Saturday morning in the ’80s we’d be up at 8am and back home at 6pm,’’ she said.

‘‘There were hundreds playing, we had primary school competitions, under-17 competitions and an open competition.’’

Koskelainen officiated in the National Championships for 10 years and Softball Australia was so impressed with her administration skills, she was appointed the national director of umpiring.

Her passion and dedication soon came under notice at international level and she was elevated several positions in world softball.

‘‘In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics I selected the umpires and at the 2000 Sydney Olympics I was one of the chief umpires,’’ she said.

‘‘At the 2004 Athens Olympics I was a selector and again in 2008 at Beijing I was a chief umpire.

‘‘The Olympics were an amazing experience and there was pressure to make sure the umpires were consistent.

‘‘In Sydney it didn’t rain all tournament, which was great, until the medal presentation.’’

To top her career off Koskelainen was in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2000 and was awarded with the Order of Australia Medal for her service to softball umpiring.

‘‘I haven’t stopped, nowadays I’m involved in the selection for World Championships,’’ she said.

‘‘I chair the Softball Australia awards and recognition committee and I just love it, it’s such an addictive sport.’’

Having travelled to almost 20 countries during her softball umpiring career, Koskelainen said she had met thousands of people and made lifelong friends because of the sport.

‘‘I’ve clocked up a few frequent flyer points, but I’m a pilot’s daughter, so what do you expect,’’ she said.

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