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OnMilwaukee.com
You'd better familiarize yourself with terms such as barracks, banana kicks, speccy and hospital passes because the 9th Annual USA Footy League (USAFL) National Championships are at Milwaukee's Polo Grounds this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2.

U.S. Footy team duke it out for title here
By Josh Hertzog

 

You'd better familiarize yourself with terms such as barracks, banana kicks, speccy and hospital passes because the 9th Annual USA Footy League (USAFL) National Championships are at Milwaukee's Polo Grounds this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2.

 

Players from all over the country will compete for national rankings and league titles in the sport of footy, also known as Australian rules football.

 

Milwaukee's selection as this year's host city delights Paul O'Keeffe, U.S. Footy founder and Milwaukee area resident.

 

"It's the first time the nationals have been held in Milwaukee," says O'Keeffe. "It's a great opportunity."

O'Keeffe isn't just the founder of footy in the United States, but a player on the Milwaukee club as well, which consists of four teams in the area.

 

"We have a really good team (Milwaukee Bombers) and hope to win the whole thing," he adds.

With more than 60 players, the Milwaukee Bombers hosts players from all around Southeastern Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, Waukesha and Green Bay. Four players from the squad were selected to represent their country and play in the international tournament in Australia.

 

All of this is possible because of O'Keeffe, who started the league back in late 1997 with four teams nationwide. Since then, the sport has taken off, with 35 clubs formed throughout the country. The league now boasts over 2,000 players, with interest growing every year.

 

"It's been a real grass roots effort," says O'Keeffe.

 

And he points out that anyone can contribute something to the game.

 

"You can be 45 years old and be competitive," he adds. "You can be the worst guy on the team, it doesn't matter."

 

Many players join to get a great workout, be competitive or treat the sport as a social gathering among friends, but for O'Keeffe, there's more to it.

 

"It's really a connection to home," says O'Keeffe, an Australian native. "I've been surrounded by the sport for a long time, and it's part of my culture. That's one of the reasons I continue to be involved (with footy)."

 

For those who are thinking rugby, think again. Australian rules football, or footy, encompasses elements of soccer, basketball and volleyball. Players are allowed to handle the ball with their hands, as well as kick it. Although players have designated positions, they are free to move around the field as they please.

 

The oval field on which the games are played is twice the size of an American football field, with a game consisting of four 20-minute quarters.

 

The game is scored by kicking the footy through the goalposts, which are planted at each end of the field. If the ball is kicked through the middle posts, it's worth six points, and if kicked through the outer posts, it's worth one point.

 

And don't think the sport is just for men. O'Keeffe says a women's tournament debuts this year.

"Part of the goal with nationals here in Milwaukee is to educate people about the sport and let them see how brilliant it really is."

 

The 9th Annual US Australian Footy League National Championships takes place Saturday, Oct. 1 and Sunday, Oct. 2 at the Milwaukee Polo Grounds, N75 W30343 Highway VV in Merton. Admission is free, with games beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday and at the top of every hour through 4 p.m.

 

The event will also include booths featuring traditional Australian food and drink, merchandise and official club and tournament gear. Clinics will be held for children and adults interesting in learning more about the game.

 

The Milwaukee Bombers Web site is milwaukeebombers.com.

 

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