Ipswich-bred international achiever Toni Caldwell is standing down as an NBL referee after 13 years at elite level. Picture: Peter Cronin
Ipswich-bred international achiever Toni Caldwell is standing down as an NBL referee after 13 years at elite level. Picture: Peter Cronin

Ipswich trailblazer Toni reveals why her NBL career is over

HAVING achieved what few female Australian referees have and still being in peak shape, Toni Caldwell could easily continue officiating in the National Basketball League.

However, after 13 seasons being a trailblazer, the Ipswich-bred sportswoman is retiring from elite matches.

A combination of factors, including the pain of losing her mother Bev this year, left Caldwell evaluating her future.

"Being the only female referee and this year put a lot of things into perspective for me with my mum passing away,'' she said.

Caldwell said having not refereed since March gave her time to put the whistle down and ponder other aspects of her life.

"That time spent with my mum and then recently with dad has made me realise that there are so much more important things in life than just basketball,'' she said.

"That time with family, you just never get back.''

Toni is living at Caloundra and her father Kev, a former national soccer league player, is up the road at Pelican Waters. That gives the close-knit Caldwell family more opportunities together.

Aged 44, Toni said all the travelling and having to push her body were other considerations in deciding to retire from the national league.

"I have sacrificed a lot over the years,'' she said.

"I sacrificed having a family, lots of things professionally, opportunities professionally.

"I don't want to have to balance all that anymore.''

The former Bundamba primary and Bremer State High School student said being the only female ref in the NBL was challenging.

"They expect a lot. It's like a full-time job,'' she said.

"It was getting quite demanding.''

Affectionally known as TC, Caldwell leaves the NBL yet to decide if she will continue in other basketball roles.

"I haven't retired from basketball altogether. Just the NBL,'' she said.

"Because it wasn't having a positive impact on my life anymore.''

Caldwell was comfortable with her decision despite ongoing support from her long-time mentor and basketball icon Lorraine Landon who said she had her best previous season.

"I said it was (my best season), and considering what I went through with finding out mum had cancer,'' Caldwell said.

TC decided having achieved that positive result during a tough personal experience, "what better way to go out''.

Caldwell appreciated Landon's encouragement after she had helped identify TC for her FIBA (international basketball) licence nine years earlier.

Referee Toni Caldwell separates Perth Wildcats Angus Brandt and Nathan Jawai during their NBL match in Cairns. Picture: Justin Brierty
Referee Toni Caldwell separates Perth Wildcats Angus Brandt and Nathan Jawai during their NBL match in Cairns. Picture: Justin Brierty

During more than a decade in the NBL, 165cm tall Caldwell had to officiate against some giant players and often had to settle some differences.

However, she never felt intimidated by the men's basketballers.

"I've never really had to stand up to them because there's always been a mutual respect,'' she said.

One of Caldwell's best attributes is her calming affect on people. She's also respectful of the players, willing to learn from mistakes.

She started her career at Ipswich Basketball, inspired by people like Mary-Anne Wheatley and Janet Kerr.

Her national level refereeing career blossomed after officiating at the 2009 Youth Olympics in Sydney.

Free of NBL responsibilities, the former Queensland Times photographer and well-travelled designer is looking forward to sharing time with her father at the track, playing golf, fishing and at the beach.

"I love it. It's beautiful up here,'' she said of her Sunshine Coast lifestyle.

She is proud of her achievements, having served in the Queensland Basketball League for five years before being promoted to the NBL.

TC has also officiated around the world. Major tournaments include under-17 world championships in France and Amsterdam, the 2013 women's world titles in Turkey, and the World University Games in Russia. She officiated the gold medal game at that tournament.

 

National Basketball League referee Toni Caldwell. Picture: Anna Rogers
National Basketball League referee Toni Caldwell. Picture: Anna Rogers

The multi-talented marriage celebrant and marketing co-ordinator also enjoyed being a mentor to up and coming referees for Basketball Queensland and especially in her home stadium.

"I love coming back to referee in Ipswich,'' she said, having lived in the city until moving to Brisbane aged 22.

"They always make me feel like I'm coming home and they are always so proud and supportive.

"If little ole me from Ipswich can make to the elite level, then anyone can.''

She has devoted considerable energy to helping schools bolster their refereeing, by supporting courses at educational hubs like the Bundamba State Secondary College.

She rates working with young referees among the most satisfying moments.

"I've always made sure I've always been part of the grassroots and the kids,'' she said.

"My highlight this week was when I retired.

"I actually didn't quite realise and understand the reach or the impact that just running around as the only female referee had.

"I've been blown away, overwhelmed by the amount of messages and phone calls and support from people I didn't even know and from coaches as well, at all levels.

"It's been beautiful and my highlight has always been helping those young referees along the way and made it fun for them . . . and get them to pick up the whistle for the first time.''



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