Toni Minogue has been umpiring and coaching netball for more than two decades but she's allergic to any suggestions that her passion has rubbed off on her whistle-blowing grandson, Ezrah Eagle.

"He is extraordinary and he definitely doesn't get that temperament from me," says Minogue of the 11-year-old Mahora School pupil who early this month received his centre badge from Hawke's Bay Netball officials' development officer, Natalie Corbett, after picking up a whistle in May.

"I took two full seasons to get my centre badge and he did it in just 11 weeks," says the Hastings grandmother who believes it perhaps comes from father Owen Eagle's lineage because her side of the family tends to be "more volatile".

That is not to say she hasn't had an affinity with her first grandchild, something many grandparents instinctively tend to establish with a generation removed.


"I used to see him every second or third day if not every day because we're a pretty close family. I spend a lot of time with all my grandchildren."

Eagle, the operations manager for Z Energy Hawke's Bay/Gisborne believes, carries himself more like an adult than a youngster approaching his teens.

"He just has that ability. He's one in a million. I know I come across biased because I'm related but even if I wasn't I'd see that ability."

She'll always be proud of him regardless of whether he makes it to the elite level or just be a brother to his three sisters.

"He's inspired me to get my centre badge again and umpire at Super 8 level with him," says Minogue who obtained her regional (zonal) umpires badge more than a decade ago but it's expired.

His mother, Amanda Eagle, 31, was playing premier club netball at the old Sylvan Rd courts up to the time she was pregnant with him.

Toni Minogue reckons her grandson was one of the quieter children in his early childhood days on the sidelines who absorbed what he was watching.

"Up to a couple of years ago he was able to voice what I was thinking."


It transcended the routine gesture of helping his grandmother with carrying drinks or lugging gear to and from the car.

To confirm her suspicions, Minogue started asking him questions to decipher if he actually had a grasp of what was transpiring on the court.

She says even his Cornwall Cricket Club has noted that level of comprehension and have handed him a team to co-ordinate as player/coach.

"They haven't asked him to umpire but I'm sure he'll do it if they do ask him."

The year 6 pupil says he has been around netball so long he started enjoying it.

"Since my grandma was umpiring I wanted to follow that trail."

Eagle, alongside another boy, also plays in his school's teams at both ends of the court.

"They [girls] don't expect more of me but they treat me as a special person."

He intends to play at Heretaunga Intermediate next year but believes it'll end in high school because boys aren't allowed to [play].

Eagle builds a cocoon around himself to shut out remarks on the netball sidelines when umpiring but is open to tips and quick-fire questions from his grandma.

He is manager of his grandma's netball team, Napier Tech Storm in senior ones, and often helps keep score during games.

"I'd love to umpire the Silver Ferns," he says, hoping to receive higher level games over time.

Minogue got into netball through her daughters, Amanda and Nicole Minogue, 28, both of Hastings, when they were in primary and intermediate school in the days of the former Hastings Netball Council.

A former hockey age-group representative who honed her skills under matriarch Marg Hiha, she took them through Bay age-group representative netball teams and remained with the committee even after they graduated from high school.

The switch was "a right fit" for someone who is indebted to Julie Shaw, of Hastings, who now is still in charge of netball bench officials up to national level.

"She went to the worlds in Singapore so it she who encouraged me to umpire rather than just my daughters playing and me coaching."

While her employment pertains to solving problems she feels netball officiating and mentoring leans more towards offering direction as well as achieving results.

She had risen to Intercity level, equivalent to the Super 8 premier grade now.

"I enjoyed the umpiring more than I ever did playing or coaching."

Minogue says while the collective helps an official grow it still boils down to an individual accomplishment.

"It takes your own ability, desire and drive to want to become an umpire. I don't want to say the power and control because they aren't kind of positives but it is a little bit of that."

It comes down to guiding as an umpire but, she suspects, that's probably why she often gravitated to coaching to assert herself a little more.

While her fitness and understanding of rules may not have been the best when she started in her 30s, Minogue had no qualms about rocking up to any game to officiate.

She says when she started the country saw Hastings "as a graveyard for umpires" because they had to have a steely resolve due to "some severe sideline behaviour back then".

"It still can be there - very subtle - but it's way, way better than what it was back then.

"Even Pauline Sciascia had a season or two off after some damaging sideline stuff [at premier Bay level] so it can affect even the strongest umpire," she says of retired international Sciascia.

"They [fans] speak it out as they see it. They kind of forget to tell the umpires the calls that were great but quickly yell out the ones that aren't."

Minogue emphasises netball isn't any different to any other competitive arena where officials also are prone to making errors.

"It's the same in rugby. We focus on the one he got wrong and not the other 27 whistles he got right so it's human nature than anything."

She stresses the significant change in netball is the overwhelming support umpires receive from the custodians.

"In my day it probably was there but we were never told to get support so we just had to weather the storm whereas now they make it quite clear they have communication," she says, revealing her grandson receives great back up that is a factor in why he is making inroads.

Corbett admires Eagle's enthusiasm to be out there doing something.

"He's the youngest one to receive a centre badge that I know of," she says of a domain reserved for 14-year-olds and older.

Corbett says he can step up to the next stage, zone theory, but is reluctant to push him towards the 90-minute exam which he will be more accustomed to when he enters high school.

Enjoyment now is crucial, she says, and he also receives great network support.