In September 1997 an end of year footy tournament was held one Saturday in Cincinnati Ohio with five teams from around the USA, Los Angeles, Nashville, St Louis, a combined team from Kansas City/Louisville, the hosts Cincinnati of course and one team from Toronto, the Broadview Hawks. Prior to that day in ‘97 there had been over a dozen games of Aussie Rules Footy played across the USA, even some in 1996. These games mostly were held in the Midwest, but teams of interested players had started to spring up across the country. The Cincinnati Dockers team went on to win that day on their home turf, what was later in the night when you read on, decided to be the inaugural USA Australian Rules Football National Championship.
As has become a great tradition in the present era of the USAFL National Championships, a social event was always in order after playing all day or all weekend. In 1997 players and supporters had to drive a 40+ mile trip across the state line into Indiana to attend, what was unknown at the time, to become a historic night in the annuals of Australian Rules Football.
Held in a far away country barn with dead animals on the walls and a horse shoe throwing pit out front and a bonfire, a meeting of footy mates was held. Though it was late in the evening, out the back of the barn from the rowdy crowd, players and organizers of footy clubs participating that day held the infamous, "The Meeting Behind the Barn".
That meeting lit by one overhead light and with a group of about ten to twelve footy lovers from around the country, became the birth of the USAFL as we know it today. On the recent ‘Outside 50’ podcast ‘The Meeting Behind the Barn’ (published on this page), we hear the stories of three attendees of that very meeting nearly 24 years ago. Paul 'Plugger' O'Keefe, Rich Mann and Mike Powers were there, not so fresh maybe from a long Saturday of footy, but energetic enough to gather a group together to talk about the future of footy in the USA. On the podcast they recount some of the events leading up to that weekend and night, and much of the history they made soon after, helping grow the game of Aussie Rules Football across the USA to what it has become today.
The founding member teams of the USAFA as it was formed that night in Indiana according to what we have been able to discover were, Washington D.C., Indianapolis, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, St Louis and Kansas City.
From just over those dozen games in 1997, the games total grew to over a hundred in just a few years, thanks mostly to these three footy lovers, these eight clubs and many other club founders around the USA. And the event held at the end of the year, named on that 1997 night and won by that Cincinnati Dockers team, was from that day on called the USA Aussie Rules National Championships. The USAFL Nationals as it is known now, has now possibly grown to become the biggest Australian Rules Football event in the world, with close to 2000 men and women players playing on six fields from 9am on Saturday to 6.00pm on Sunday, normally held over the second weekend of October.
Paul, Rich and Mikey, chatted to us about the characters they remember and the lifelong friendships they have made from footy throughout the years. The leaders that have moved on, retired and unfortunately passed away. These three legends that helped make the USAFL what it is today with their early day champions of the game, we are pleased to say are still going strong and still playing amazingly. Well, at least at the National Championships each year they are anyway. ;)
From the vision of Paul O'Keefe and the support of Rich Mann and Mike Powers plus the others at that meeting and the many club leaders that followed soon after, we should applaud them all often, pay respect and due acknowledgment, as without them many of us would not be enjoying footy as we know it in the USA today.
'The Meeting Behind the Barn' is a historic story of Australian Rules Football growth, passion and the pure love of the game, and we hope this tale of ‘The Meeting Behind the Barn’ will live for as long as the game is played.
Ref: The Story of USfooty: Lexington, Mass: Lexington Press, c2003 - John Doc Cheffers with Greg Narleski