In the shadow of the George Washington Masonic Temple here in Alexandria, and with the rain evaporating on the George Washington Middle School Football field, 20 to 30 young men and women are out trying their hand at Ausball.
It is a brisk Saturday morning but those brave souls willing to get out of bed are excited to put the footy boots on, kick some goals and have some fun.
Ausball, is a version of “Rec Footy,” developed for the U.S. It is a 9-a-side game played on a smaller oval (100 yards in length) with no tackling and various rules to encourage coed participation. No previous experience is necessary. Just some running clothes, maybe a pair of cleats or sneakers and plenty of enthusiasm.
This is the third week of the Baltimore Washington Eagles experiment with the Ausball concept.
The first week was an unmitigated success with 40 people showing up including 20 people new to the game. The second week had low turnout as Washington DC’s Cherry Blossom Festival drew huge crowds and made parking near the Tidal Basin impossible.
After that “stuff up,” the Eagles worked to book a field in Alexandria (not easy during Spring Break). While not as many as the first week, there are
enough for three teams to play two games – a pretty impressive effort given the snow and cold and the fact that many have left DC for the Easter Weekend.
Denis Ryan, USFooty Kids National Director and BW Eagles founder, is pushing the development of Ausball in the DC area and umpiring the first game. Ryan sees a great opportunity for footy to fill a void in participatory sports that occurs in the US after high school and college. According to Ryan, there has been a huge upswing in organized coed sports that combine participation and socializing.
In Baltimore, where Ryan lives, Flag Football (American) has grown tremendously in the last few years and the play-yard game of “kick ball” has also had tremendous success. According to Ryan, “Ausball is a great way to introduce the game and get a lot of people that have been sitting on the fence involved in the game and in the Club. Some will want to try the next step and play in the Metro games or for the Eagles or others will become fans of the game.”
I talked with Amy Bishop, wife of Eagle’s Head Coach Matt Bishop, who was sitting in the car trying to stay warm before the game. Bishop is currently the leading goal kicker with the DC Punishment. Australian, but a Rugby Leaguer by upbringing, Bishop is relatively new to the sport and enjoys the Ausball concept. “It has been great. Lots of brand new players including lots of new girls came down the first week and really enjoyed the game.”
Bishop thinks that some of the rule changes are important. “Having the rule that requires the ball go through a girl in the forward half means that the boys don’t just run a way with the ball.”
The Eagles have three more weeks of their first Ausball season. It really looked like a lot of fun. I might even be willing to dust off my footy boots and have a kick.
A video companion piece can be viewed on youtube: WFN Ausball 4/7/07 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUK8BXcxYiE)