If there’s one thing Australian expatriates love more than their Australian Rules Football games, it’s winning over new converts.
The Baton Rouge Tigers Australian Rules Football Club found a taker in Josh Cartmill, who was introduced to the sport through a friend in the spring of 2011, and hasn’t stopped since. Cartmill, current president of the club, led the effort to organize the Tigers’ inaugural South Central Metro Tournament on Saturday, inviting United States Australian Football-affiliated teams from Austin, Dallas and Houston for a full day of matchups.
All four clubs play as part of the Southern Region of the USAFL, an organization dedicated to expanding the sport in America. Nationwide, the league has expanded to include 40 clubs as of 2018.
Australian culture is sports-saturated, not unlike the United States, said Robert Montanaro, who was among the original members of the Tigers when the club was created in 2004.
But they don’t just observe, he said — they participate, long after they’ve left school teams and entered the workforce.
“In Australia, the sports culture is different and every little town has a football team that plays every weekend. By being part of the club is how one socializes within the community. Even the college team sports is completely different. Unlike the big tailgating events that occur in U.S. college football games, Australian rules football games typically don’t have large crowds in the stands,” said Matt Heintze, player/coach of the Tigers. “Because everyone’s on a team, themselves; they’re either at their own games or at practice.”
Whatever the love of the game is, it’s something the Baton Rouge Tigers are eager to pass on to anyone who wants to learn more about this fast-paced, multiskilled, no-pads tackle version of football.
The tackling is different, Montanaro is quick to point out — more of a bear hug takedown than the full contact hits of American football and rugby, and that makes it somewhat safer for all ages.
“It’s addictive,” Cartmill said. The ball moves quickly and must be either passed, kicked or touched to the ground every 15 meters. The pace is so fast that it becomes a good antidote to every day stressors. “You’re focused on the ball. You don’t really have time to think about it, you have to react to what’s happening right in front of you,” he said.
It’s also a great way to stay in shape and satisfy the accomplishment that comes with team sports, he said.
The sport is akin to Little League Baseball in the United States, Cartmill said, in that everyone grows up playing it in Australia. One of the objectives is to grow the sport in America, and that’s one reason that League-sanctioned games only allow a maximum of 50 percent Australian expatriates to Americans on the playing field.
While there’s certainly a learning curve, he said, that is mitigated by the free-flowing nature of the game. Players are encouraged to offer each other advice at the tops of their lungs.
Due to the nonstop nature of the game, there are no set plays, and no huddles while the game is in progress, therefore the plan is created second by second, he said. Teammates make it up as they go along by talking to each other on the field — and from the sidelines — as the game progresses.
The sport has expanded in Australia to include women’s leagues in the past few years, Heintze added, and that has caught on in the U.S., as well.
“The USAFL is following in those footsteps and encouraging women to come out to a practice or a game to try the game out. We welcome anyone to a practice,” Heintze said.