Great news from a tough year for Aussie Rules Football in the USA is the formation of the first ever team in Alabama. The Birmingham Bushrangers are about to join the growing South East USA footy world and ready to start and play games in 2021 when the sport gets back on it's feet. The Bushrangers are the work and passion of Aussie expat Joel Dixon a former University of Alabama at Birmingham punter, who came to the USA as part of the Pro Kick organization that helps Aussie players development the skills to make it in the College Football programs and then maybe onto the NFL itself.
Dixon is no stranger to footy either having played in Wodonga, Victoria & Melbourne as well as Brisbane where he got his first taste of footy as a youngster for the Morningside juniors, before coming over to the USA several years ago and completing his studies at UAB. Now settled into life in Birmingham, Dixon has been slowly gathering interest in the Birmingham area for Aussie Rules footy and already has 10-12 players practicing consistently, even in these challenging times. With teams just to the east in Georgia like the Atlanta Kookaburras and the Rome Redbacks and the Nashville Kangaroos just to the north in Tennessee, there is a likely a good chance that combined with the Savannah Hurricane also in Georgia and the Jacksonville Saints in Florida, a resurfacing of the SEAFL is on the cards in the future.
The Bushrangers name was not unfamiliar obviously to Dixon having been in the North Central Victoria area where the Murray Bushrangers based in Wangaratta have been part of the NAB league in Australia since 1993 (then TAC Cup), where the best 18 year olds and younger are groomed for careers in the AFL.
The challenges in front of the Bushrangers according to Dixon are many he related to USFootyNews. "We want to establish ourselves as a great alternative sport in Birmingham firstly by securing a permanent home ground and then facilitating the growth of the sport in the region with women's, youth and kids programs and teams for the community to enjoy. Getting involved in the local business community is also important to us and giving back to the community an equally important aspect of that relationship". Dixon offered.
The Bushrangers will make four new teams in the South East in the last few years, Jacksonville, Rome, Savannah & now Birmingham. If you add Tampa that came about after the USAFL delisted the St Pete Swans FL a few years back, it makes five. Where is there other similar growth in the USA? We dont know, but it has been long over due and there is possiby another two teams forming as part of the www.Footy5000.com project in the South East, so keep an eye out for that and be sure South East Aussie Rules is going to be getting some notice.
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 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
The Atlanta Kookaburras kicked off their 2019 season with a solid home game win against long time rivals the North Carolina Tigers, taking the honors by 62 points. Playing a full scale game for the first time at NH Scott Park in Decatur, the Kookaburras hit the scoreboard early and never looked back.
With a mixture of past players returning and some new recruits the Kookaburras lead at every change and broke up the game in the third term with a 6 goals to 1 quarter. New players Seth Stokes & Tanguy Peres combined well with the returning George Huntzicker in the center and Chase Trujillo who was playing his first game back in two years.
Up forward Asst Coach Linley Laverdure helped himself to 4 goals from as many shots and was well supported by Tom Gultom and Chase Trujillo with 2 and 3 goals respectively. Holding steady in the backline were Club Captain Ryan Downey and his Vice Captain again Braden Medders who used their experience to thwart many NC Tigers attacks. The visiting team put up a valiant effort and kept the Kookaburras honest at every chance however fell short on the day.
The Kookaburras next game is their first trip up the road NW to Rome GA on May 11th to take on the Redbacks. A team they helped start last year and got beat twice for the effort, so some redemption we are sure is on the cards.
Atlanta 15 goals.10 behind. 100 points.
NC Tigers 5 goals 8 behinds 38 points
Goalkickers: Laverdure 4, Trujillo 3, Gultom 2, Huntzicker 2, Peres 2, Johnson & Ridenhour 1 each.
Best Players: Downey, Peres, Trujillo, Huntzicker, Medders, Stokes.