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Local sports fans looking for a taste of Australian-rules football, don’t have to travel Down Under for a “footy” fix. The home office of the United States Australian Football League is now located in Delavan, and the Milwaukee club will host the national championship in October.

Are you ready for some footy?

Area couple brings Australian rules football stateside

By Rick West

DELAVAN, Wis. — Local sports fans looking for a taste of Australian-rules football, don’t have to travel Down Under for a “footy” fix. The home office of the United States Australian Football League is now located in Delavan, and the Milwaukee club will host the national championship in October.

Julie Upton, who moved to Delavan from Australia in late 2004, is the amateur league’s new office manager. She handles her duties for 35 teams from an office just off the dining room of her historic 1851 home. “I think that a really important part of my role is to set up some good processes and timelines so we all know what we’re working towards,” Upton said. That includes arranging the league’s monthly tele-conference meetings, producing the league newsletter and updating the USAFL Web site (www.usfooty.com). She also stays in regular contact through e-mail with league President Mark Wheeler, who lives in Australia.

The league has teams throughout the United States. Since 1997, the USAFL has played over 1,300 games of footy in the United States. This year, the league hopes to break the 1,800 mark.

Upton and her husband of 28 years, Randall, met in Geneva, Switzerland in 1976 and lived in Australia for 25 years, where they ran a successful sports-consulting business. They moved to Delavan when Randall, a 1966 graduate of Beloit College and the son of former college president Miller Upton (1954-1975), accepted a position in the development management office of the college’s Department of External Affairs.

While in Australia, Randall Upton fell in love with the game. “It combines every single facet of every sport I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It combines tackling, jumping, catching, kicking and running. And anybody can play this sport because there are positions for each person.” Americans, the family discovered, don’t know much about the game. “People always say to us, ‘Oh, it must be like soccer,’” Julie Upton said. “And some people say, ‘Is it like rugby?’ It’s neither.”

For the Uptons, footy is a family sport. The couple have two sons who still live in Australia, John, 27, and Andrew, 24. Both are involved with the sport through the Prahran Football Club in Melbourne. And youngest son Mitch, a 15-year-old freshman at Walworth Big Foot High School, now plays in the USAFL with the Milwaukee Bombers.

“One of the awful things for (Mitch) about leaving Australia was that he would have to leave his team and his game,” Julie Upton said. “And (the Bombers) have just adopted him and been wonderful to him.”

For Mitch, the allure of the game is summed up in a few words. “The roughness of it,” he said. “Getting to take somebody down.” Mitch was the youngest player at the USAFL Nationals last year in Atlanta, and has been featured in a Fox Television Network documentary.

Randall Upton, meanwhile, serves on the seven-member board that oversees the USAFL. “We’re charged with the development of the sport — all aspects of it, from umpire development to player development, to development of club sports at colleges and universities,” he said.

Australian-rules football is played with 18 players per side on an oval-shaped field larger than a normal soccer field. Because such spaces are limited in the United States, the USAFL board is working on developing a modified game with nine players per side. It would be played on existing soccer fields.

USAFL President Paul O’Keefe, a league founder, said the sport gives Americans a taste of his native Australia. “It’s a great way to promote Australian culture in America,” said O’Keefe, the coach of the Milwaukee Bombers. “It’s all about getting people to play the sport and enjoy the sport.”
In addition to the Bombers traveling team, there is a metro league in Milwaukee for players who want to compete on a recreational basis. That league uses the nine-player format.

The term footy, meanwhile, is uniquely Australian. “As far as Australians go, if it’s a long name they’ll make it shorter, and if it’s a short name they’ll make it longer,” O’Keefe joked.

Among the many things that keep Julie Upton busy each week is preparing for the USAFL’s national championships in October at the Milwaukee Polo Fields in Waukesha. Most days, it doesn’t seem like work. “I just really love the game,” she said.

 

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