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
As we all start to brush off the New Years cob webs we thought we would let you know, in case you are still trying to get those Bluetooth headphones to work you got for Christmas, that USA footy in 2020 is going to be huge. Huge, I tell ya.!!
Let us kick off with the three Regional Championship events. June 13th in Arlington Texas, June 27th in Cincinnati Ohio and July 11th in Westminster Colorado. I know what you are thinking. Are those Central, Eastern and Western Regional’s not all in the same Central region in how the USAFL groups teams? You are right they are, and I thought the same thing.
So lets try and explain. The USAFL from what we can tell consider the regions ‘flexible’. With the Western regional’s this year just outside Denver, the Bulldogs who would normally play in the Central regional’s and in fact hosted the Central regional’s in 2019. This year they will play in the Western regional’s and the Denver team have hosted the Western regional’s before in 2017 though.
Cincinnati hosting Eastern regional’s is somewhat similar. Normally a Central region team they will obviously play in the Eastern regional’s this year, whilst teams like Chicago a little Nth West of them and Nashville slightly Sth East, will have to make the trip all the way over to Texas for the Central regional’s.
As is seems to have been explained before the USAFL have now taken full control of the three regional events, including all logistics which includes field hire, officials, umpires and importantly hotel accommodation. The events are put out for bids by cities around the USA that want to host the events and have the necessary field requirements and facilities. This obviously narrows the field somewhat and with the notion that the USAFL probably also wants to move the event around to different cities each year, the selection available this year must have been thinner than normal we can only surmise.
So are you thinking we might as well throw out the window the Regional model of the USAFL and come up with something else? Well not so fast, the league must elect three Vice Presidents to ‘manage’ those current regions per their constitution and the election of officers. But perhaps we are getting to a stage for some change. (Incidentally last year USFootyNews separated the USAFL teams into 6 regions as you might have seen, as we thought it just made more sense from a reporting standpoint)
The USAFL National Championships on October 10th-11th go back to California for the second time in three years however it is not on the coast like the picturesque San Diego destination was in 2017, it is eastward inland, at Silverlakes Sports Park in Ontario. If one is using LAX as the inbound flight destination to California it can take from 1 hour to 2 hours plus, to drive to Ontario from LAX, depending on the pretty extreme LA traffic. There is an airport in Ontario, however it has much fewer flights. Players could be advised to book early if going direct. There you go, you heard it here first.
The 2020 USAFL Nationals will be massive though. The San Diego 2017 Nationals were the biggest on record and with the vibrant growth of footy down the west coast it is expected that Ontario will match that at least. In 2017 in San Diego, 53 teams represented 40 clubs on 6 fields and over 80…yes 80, 2x20 min half games were played. That’s a lot of games, it’s a lot of everything.
It has been discussed that Regional events can help form the seeds of divisions for the National Championships. But in essence we believe this is only relevant for Division 1 teams pretty much. The results of previous years Nationals continues to be the best guide to the coming years Nationals in our opinion, with a few minor exceptions. As well teams get 'options' on which division they can play, based often on how many players they have making the trip.
There are other events going on too in 2020. The International Cup in Australia in late July early August where the USA Revolution and Freedom teams will match it with teams from around the world, like they do every three years. This year the event is up on the Sunshine coast of Queensland, surely to be nicer weather, but not as prestigious as getting the chance to play on the MCG.
The finals however will be played as curtain raiser and curtain closer games (that’s new) to the Brisbane Lions v West Coast Eagles at the Gabba on August 8th. USFootyNews might get out there for this great event ourselves.
Another event worth of mention is the Rob Dollar Cup supporting the Rob Dollar Foundation https://www.robdollarfoundation.org
Held late March on the 28th, this event in 2019 attracted a handful teams to the sunny 70f weather of Phoenix AZ, but all reports it was a huge success and likely to grow even further each year.
There is also a new Invitational 12s tournament in Spring down in Savannah Georgia. This event was held last year organized by the Atlanta Kookaburras and new teams the Savannah Hurricane and Jacksonville Saints with players from the new Tampa Bay Sharks also attended. This year all teams are invited including women's teams.
And finally along with all that there are home and way events littered all throughout the year and mini (often three way) game day events which are now very popular all over the place. Tampa have already started practices and have a mini game with Ft Lauderdale on February 8th in Ft Myers FL, and other teams are either starting practice in February or running some social games at least.
Anyway, we hope to see you out there in 2020, its gonna be a huge year…!!!