The Great Outdoors
Footy frenzy: An Australian game with all-American style
The day before millions gathered in front of their TVs, lining up rows of salty goodies at the altar of the Super Bowl, I was on another football field in Spring Branch about to pass out.
Despite my recent exercise routine, the sprint-laden drills of the Houston Lone Stars and the scrimmage that followed tested the limits of my lung capacity and left assorted parts of my legs sore for days. It was a game physically intense and strategy rich, yet as different from what Americans call football as Vegemite and peanut butter.
“It’s the best of all American sports” is how Jared Maidenberg described Australian rules football as a dozen of his team mates nodded in agreement.
The man-on-man defense evokes the agility of basketball. The play up and down the field is constant like soccer, while the tackles and blocks take the strength of football or rugby. Oh, and there are no helmets, no pads, and the field is about 150 yards long.
“It’s just such an open game, such an athletic game,” says Shaun Whitehouse, an Australian native and longtime player who moved to Houston a month ago for work and helps coach the team.
Men and women of all sizes and levels of fitness are welcome. Full tackles aren’t allowed in practice and gatherings for adult beverages are frequent. With the exception of a few Aussies on hand, most on the team are new to the sport, and it’s a great opportunity for the uninitiated to get involved as the Lone Stars try to gather a full team for matches around the region.
To do that, they’ll need about two dozen people. Each team has up to 18 players on the field at a given time during four, 20-minute quarters. They play on a large grass oval with four posts rising from each end. A ball kicked between the middle two posts without anyone touching it scores six points. If a ball passes through the posts after touching any other part of the player who sent it there, or any member of the opposing team, it's worth one point. Same for balls that travel between a post on the outside and the middle pair.
Throwing the ball is illegal, and to get it down the field players kick or punch it to one another. Anyone running with the ball has to bounce it on the ground ever 15 yards or so and get rid of it if he's tackled. There’s definitely a “that guy has the ball, let’s get him!” element to it. But beyond the rough-and-tumble appearance of the sport, the constant running, passing and blocking makes footy an engaging challenge for everyone on the field.
“It can be a real spectacle,” Whitehouse says.
Sound fun? Then join the Lone Stars Facebook page to find the next practice.
Peter Barnes explains the game below: