In recent times we have seen the reemergence of footy teams in Florida. Last year the Jacksonville Saints were fully established and this year they brought several players to the USAFL Eastern Regionals to play with eventual Division 2 winners, the Boston Demons. The new Saints team also played with the Atlanta Kookaburras and Rome Redbacks in an exhibition game in Savannah Georgia in late June as those teams assist with team development in Georgia.
Apart from that activity we wrote recently about maybe the darkness footy has been in recently in Florida. So we reached out to a few leaders of the new Tampa Bay Tiger Sharks club to get their side of things.
Tampa Bay Tiger Sharks have affiliated recently with the USAFL after the implosion of the Major League Footy organization. An organization we were informed that was being run basically by just one person. Several players in the Tampa area were becoming disillusioned with the MLF set up, as it was to them just scrimmage games with no real competition. Players would come down, pull on a different uniform each week however the results would be posted on the league website for whatever team colors they represented as legitimate games. “There were games versus Ft Lauderdale as well but they were not very well organized”, new club leader Robbie Scarallo said recently.
Born in Dubbo Australia, Robbie Scarallo and others like former Columbus Cats players Tom Mathews and Claire Conley recently formed a provisional committee to restart footy in the Tampa region. After the press release of the USAFL recently and the design of their new logo coming with that news, Scarallo said “I am confident a brand new “voted in” board of management would be in place by the end of July. Currently we have ‘around' 20 players we hope to get out onto the practice field from the past MLF group, however early numbers are much lower than that.”
Other plans have also been discussed about also splitting into to local metro teams quickly so the club can immediately play competitive games without having to travel far. Tampa although a very large city the Tiger Sharks are still a long way away from any other USAFL club. Ft Lauderdale is 4 hour drive away on a good day and Jacksonville is 3.5 hours as well, so establishing rival teams inside their own city is probably a must do.
With the USAFL National Championships just a 1 hour drive south to Sarasota this October the Tampa Bay leaders are confident they will have enough players and enthusiasm to again have a team playing in the biggest footy event outside of Australia.
Probably the next point of interest will be to see if Ft Lauderdale can also regroup and fully return to the footy fold and if any other clubs can be started in Florida, especially one maybe in the central Florida region like Orlando. That would benefit all the other clubs in the Florida state greatly at the same time.
The USAFL National Championships are going back to Sarasota Florida for the second time. The beach-side resort city first hosted the biggest Australian Rules Football Tournament in the world in 2016, but since then a lot has happened, some of that controversial maybe, in the Sunshine state in regards to Aussie Rules football development.
After the last Nationals there in 2016 we saw the emergence of an organization called Major League Footy (MLF). The new League was based around the concept of semi professional players playing 9 a side games, similar to what the AFL had started in Australia with the AFLX concept. The main team within their armory was the St Pete Swans, a registered USAFL team who had played in the 2016 National Championships.
The website and social media of Major League Footy grew overnight it seemed, to sometimes 20 + teams apparently located around the USA as far north as Pittsburg PA and as far west as Los Angeles California. To many people around USAFL circles this development was fanciful at best and for some, basically pure fantasy.
The MLF development moved on however, they recruited the St Pete players and those outside or around Tampa and the Ft Lauderdale Squid players on the other side of the Florida peninsula. In January 2018 the USAFL released a statement delisting the St Pete Swans organization from their ranks, basically saying the MLF business model no longer fit with the USAFL's not for profit stance, and as the AFL sanctioned leader of the sport in the USA, the St Pete Swans and MLF organizations were not to be considered part of the USAFL in any way.
From then on the Florida players and teams went somewhat underground and also under the radar it seemed. Games were played between rival teams around Florida according to their website, however reports were that they were the same 20 players just pulling on different uniforms each week, pretending to be opposing teams. From the outside it appeared to people to be like a Ponzi scheme to attract money from sponsors without legitimate teams and without regard for real or actual development of the sport. Social Media and photos of the games were rare, no team photos, and rare player or game reports.
Many of the Ft Lauderdale team players allegedly played in a team called the Miami Saints in this MLF competition whilst several were still registered as USAFL players and then also played in the 2017 & 2018 National Championships without playing any full sanctioned USAFL games during those years. So it seemed the USAFL were hoping to ignore most of what was going, leaving it under the carpet so to speak, in the hope it would just fade away.
And that did just happen just recently in June. In mid June 2019 the entire Social Media accounts of all MLF teams and all websites disappeared, just like they were never there in the first place. A new team seeking affiliation with the USAFL bobbed up in Tampa Florida called the Tampa Bay Tiger Sharks (and were admitted) and were hastily given the green light by the USAFL to send players to the exhibition game in Savannah Georgia in late June. This game was organized by three registered USAFL clubs, the Atlanta Kookaburras, Rome Redbacks and Jacksonville Saints.
In past weeks we also have seen the re-emergence of the Ft Lauderdale Squids on Social Media, apparently under their own steam and not shared posts by a volunteer elsewhere in Florida. So things are looking up for footy in Florida again hopefully.
Will it last?, maybe only the sun, earth and the moon might know right now, but footy is heading back to one of the best locations for the game in October, Sarasota Florida. Even if footy in the area has a recent dark past, it is sure to be a great time come October.
The newly developing team down in Georgia the Savannah Hurricane got a leg up for their development by hosting four USAFL teams for their first game. The Savannah Invitational on June 29th was the first ever game of Aussie Rules Football in Savannah and was earmarked as the start of Georgia's 3rd team. The game mostly orchestrated by the Atlanta Kookaburras drew on players also from the Rome Redbacks, Jacksonville Saints and Tampa Bay Tiger Sharks.
The Hurricane has been born out of two past USAFL players, Justin Ward from the Atlanta Kookaburras and Elliot Szabo formerly of the Nashville Kangaroos. Both Ward and Szabo had moved to Savannah several years ago but were keen to start a team in Savannah when the Atlanta club indicated their goals to help grow the game in the South East region of USA.
The Savannah Hurricane now practice regularly right in the center of Savannah near the iconic fountain in the famous Forsyth Park.
Check out more about the Hurricane on their website. www.savfooty.com