Almanac (Wheelchair) Footy: SANFL Wheelchair Footy an Overwhelming Success

 

Wayne McNamara, Soraj Habib, Lloyd Banwell & David Gould in action
Photo courtesy of SANFL Disability Programs

 

 

During this season I have had the absolute privilege of commentating the SANFL Wheelchair footy competition. Thanks to Darren Andrews, Oz Sports radio and Nathan Pepper (my fellow commentator and gun SANFL administrator).

 

 

David Gould and Lloyd Banwell contest the ball as Ashlee Gould and Nigel Greenslade watch on.
Picture courtesy SANFL Disability Programs

 

Nathan explains the origins of the competition:

 

History

 

A South Australian wheelchair football team (7 players) has competed at the National Carnival from 2016 to 2019. The 2019 carnival was held in Adelaide and at around the same time Disability Recreation and Sport South Australia (Wheelchair Sports SA) folded. Despite the SA team winning four straight national titles, there was no local competition for the players. COVID restrictions did not allow us to form a competition in 2020.

 

2021 Season

 

We ran three come-and-try sessions including a Draft Combine event where players were tested as per AFL Draft Combine standards (including testing 20m sprint, agility and taking reach measurements). This would help us to identify talent and aid with team selection when drafting players to SANFL clubs.

 

We approached SANFL Clubs to be part of the inaugural season and ultimately chose four clubs: Central District, Norwood, Sturt and Woodville-West Torrens.

 

A total of 35 players took the court in the League. Both male and female players, with and without disability, and with an age range spanning 8 years to 61 years old took part.

 

All matches were live streamed to allow all club supporters, family and friends (who couldn’t attend due to Covid restrictions) to watch the games.

 

The Grand Final was attended by over 200 people including the Premier, Hon. Steven Marshall, who presented Sturt with the winning trophy.

 

Match Replays can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLfBkfAf2fSgtLaiXpi63e6H_nIXhGY7u_

 

More information: https://sanfl.com.au/wheelchair

 

The wheelchair competition was brilliant in the camaraderie between the participants. There was a realistic acceptance of some players having significant disabilities and there was some leeway given in general when shooting for goal in not blocking (in normal footy terms, not standing the mark).

 

It was fascinating in how players got involved with the sport. Nigel Greenslade from Central Districts: “I received a severe impact injury whilst serving in the army which heavily involved my lower left leg and ankle. This injury has prevented me from running and long periods of standing, preventing me playing most sports and limiting exercise. I have a nephew that was born with no legs and is heavily involved in wheelchair basketball. On a trip around Australia in 2015 he introduced us to wheelchair basketball, and while playing this I saw boys playing wheelchair football and decided to get involved.”

 

It was also interesting that several able bodied players took up playing to learn about how to operate and manoeuvre a wheelchair and to better understand the challenges their family member faces in life. It was truly educational and heart warming to observe.

 

The standard of the competition improved dramatically during the season and it may well be the most tactical sport I’ve ever seen. But don’t worry, it was fiercely competitive, the clashing and banging of the wheelchairs proved that. At the start of the competition Nathan and I would cringe and nervously hold our breath re potential injuries to a player when they came out of the chair. Yet, by the end of the season, we had accepted it as just part of the game. The speed of the players to remount and continue on as though nothing had happened was second to none. Sturt were the dominant side, going through the season undefeated. They had the MVP of the competition in Mathew Gregory or, as I called him the ‘Barrie Robran of wheelchair footy’ – it’s impossible to give anyone higher praise than that! His combination with Hallam Chitty, aka “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, was lethal but all of their side contributed to make the Double Blues truly the best side.

 

 

Alexander Kouts, with Chris Simpson, Giang Danh and Chris Pitman behind.
Photo courtesy SANFL Disability Programs

 

There were some awesome characters, none bigger than 8-year-old Alex Coutts, such a cheerful, polite kid. The way he’s accepted his lot in life and his determination is an example and lesson to all of us. There are plenty of people around Australia at the moment who could learn plenty from Alex.

 

 

Norwood’s Simon Hingston celebrates a goal with Norwood teammate Holly Gould
Photo courtesy SANFL Disability Programs

 

‘Mr Passion’ from the Redlegs in Simon Hingston. ‘Enthusiasm’ is his middle name. BP, the quiet achiever. Chris Simpson from the Eagles is looking forward to next season to play with his son. Nigel Greenslade from the Dogs is a very thoughtful individual who sees the whole picture – yes, Neags, he truly gets it. Ashlee Gould from Norwood improved dramatically during the season and this provides the chance for Ashlee and Holly to play sport with their father David Gould, a 5-time wheelchair basketball Olympian – it was too good to pass up. Trevor Jarrett, aka The Telescopic Arms (like Steve Copping), has discovered the fountain of youth, at a casual 61 years young. Soraj Habib from the Dogs had the odd drama with the different rules of wheelchair footy compared to wheelchair basketball, especially with the overhead pass not being allowed. But he always accepted it, got on with the game and was keen to improve. The competition was truly inclusive involving every single player.

 

No small part of the competition’s success was the head umpire, James Carroll. His COMMON SENSE approach and attitude plus his ability to communicate is as good as any umpire I’ve ever seen in any sport in my life. Of course he knew the rules but his ability to bend and basically do the right thing for the game overall was second to none. Again, Neags he truly gets it. And how about Sturt CEO Sue Dewing who came out every week, invariably ending up goal umpiring, has a heart of gold and is an outstanding administrator.

 

 

Alexander Kouts fist pumps Chris Pitman
Photo courtesy SANFL Disability Programs

 

Christine Williams from Woodville-West Torrens was also a fantastic supporter of the competition, coming along every week. I could continue to go on and on about how great a competition it was. I urge any and everyone to come along to Lightsview (what a fantastic complex) and take in a game. I will be amazed if you don’t decide to become a regular. The old adage of ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ is shown perfectly with the accompanying photos.

 

Rest assured that, with the thorough review of the competition happening, we will return with an even bigger and better competition in 2022 – summing up the most unspoken words of the English language – THANK YOU.

 

 

The premiership winning Sturt team- Back: Mathew Gregory, Giang Danh, James Barker, Steven Avery (captain), Chris Pitman & Xavier Green
Front: Hallam Chitty, Chris Salotti
Photo courtesy of SANFL Disability Programs

 

To read more stories from Rulebook click here.

 

Contact Rulebook to purchase The Definitive Rulebook  here.

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE

 

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Comments

  1. Great stuff Malcolm.

    Will have to get out and watch a a game next season

  2. Wow! What an outstanding initiative that is certain to grow in participation and exposure.

  3. Sue Hingston says

    My son Simon Hingston played for Norwood. Was a dream come true for him. Thank you for making him so happy and very passionate about the game???

  4. Steve Taylor says

    Was great to see players getting a chance to play this wonderful game of ours and be included in sport, rather than be excluded.
    Hopefully the competition returns next year, bigger and better than ever.

  5. So great to see so much success in the league! Can’t wait to see how the league progresses from here. Another great write up Malcolm!

  6. A good read Rulebook. Looks like they have a lot of fun.

  7. Best post on the Almanac site ever! So glad for all involved!!

  8. The competition was great as it was wonderful to see so many people having a chance to play our great game.

    What was better was seeing them be included in sport, rather than excluded as is sometimes the case.

    Hopefully, next year, with the vision that has been shown and the attention that the competition has received, there will be more participants playing and more teams involved.

  9. Outstanding RB!!

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Malcolm, this is brilliant. Well done on getting involved. Loved the story of how the competition was started, loved your profiles of the players involved, brilliant photos, thanks for sharing!

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks folks it truly is a brilliant competition a reminder of what’s really important and rapt to have a small involvement

  12. Ripper piece Rulebook, loved how resilient the game has been despite the challenges thrown its way! Looking forward to some updates in 2022!

  13. A great concept to get the disabled more involved in sport and to enjoy themselves. I am glad they got that chance and hope that more teams will come in and allow more people to be involved. Well done to all involved and well done to Sturt for winning the grand final.

  14. Martin Rumsby says

    Excellent initiative to enable wider participation and involvement in sport.

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Jarrod,Cameron a fantastic initiative and yes hopefully more clubs join in.Martin definitely and it’s been a privilege to get to know the participants over the season and since the gf also by writing this article and I have also massively appreciated the support re my book from several of the players thanks folks

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