Sacramento Co-Ed Footy League

After 20 years of waiting, Jeff Soesbe can finally play. "There's jumping, running, catching, kicking, and charging. It's the best part of sports all rolled into one," said the 44-year-old software engineer. Flipping through television channels in the early 1990s, Soesbe stumbled across a game of Australian-rules football, or as it's colloquially known, "footy."

Thanks to an enterprising Australian couple, footy is the latest kid on the Sacramento adult sports league block. A year and a half ago, when Matt and Amy Bishop came to Sacramento, they brought co-ed footy with them and started a league that now includes 80 players who practice Tuesday and Thursday evenings in McKinley Park.

PHOTO: Paul Kitagaki Jr (

Footy is chaotic. At a recent practice, four teams took turns squaring off in free-for-alls of punting and underhanded passing. One of footy's hallmarks is that throwing is not allowed. (Rookies have trouble with this rule). Players move the ball toward – and, they hope, through – goalposts by kicking it or handing it off to another player. They can't hold onto the ball for more than five seconds. The ball itself, which looks like a rugby ball or a more voluptuous version of an American football, is oblique and bouncy. When it hits the ground, there's no telling which way it will bounce, resulting in lots of empty-handed clutching. It gives the game a silly quality. Players said footy is as easy to pick up as kickball and just as athletic as basketball or soccer. "If you can run and think, you can play," said Amy Stewart, 26, a state worker.

The Bishops – blonde, tan and smiley – look like they walked out of an Australian tourism advertisement with kangaroos and coral reefs. Matt Bishop played footy semi-professionally back home. Both play the game now in Sacramento. The couple invented co-ed footy when they first came to America. Five years ago, they moved to Washington, D.C., and Matt Bishop coached a men's footy team. Men's Aussie football leagues have been around in the United States for 12 years, and there are 34 teams across this country, he said. But he noticed that men would join, get hurt and never return. "It's traditionally a full-contact sport, and it was quite hard for them," the 36-year-old said. At the same time, Amy Bishop wanted to play, too, but couldn't find a women's league. "So we said, 'Let's get a co-ed, no-contact version happening,' " said Amy, 30. At first, there was a "bit of a cultural divide," she said said. The men would not pass to their female teammates. The Bishops solved that problem by staggering the scoring: Nine points for a goal scored by a female player, six for a goal scored by a guy. "It works quite well now," Amy said.

There still are problems with sharing. In one recent practice, one man knocked into other players and hogged the ball. The Bishops convened separate female and male meetings; the groups were reminded of the league's rules and spirit of play. Overall, though, people are drawn to the co-ed nature of the league, the Bishops said. Like the WAKA and Xoso kickball leagues – each has teams in Sacramento – most players are in their 20s, and come to meet friends and flirt. Several romances have sprung up during footy practice and at away games. After practice, the team goes to MVPs in midtown for dinner and a few rounds of beer, and often socializes on weekends.

The Bishops are betting on footy's American rise. When Matt Bishop was recently laid off from a lamb-importing company, he and Amy founded, which they say is the first U.S. purveyor of footy equipment.

Saleh Tyebjee, 25, said he got hooked on footy because of the athleticism involved. "It's fast-paced like basketball, there's strategy like soccer, and it's physical like football," said Tyebjee. "You're using your whole body for the game."

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