Baton Rouge Hit the Headlines

Clinic held on game 'footy' BR Tigers promotes awareness of Aussie-rules football

Special to The Advocate

Members of the Baton Rouge Tigers held a free Australian-rules football clinic Saturday at BREC's Burbank Soccer Complex to promote public awareness of the fast-paced sport. Players provided instruction and hands-on training to attendees in an effort to inform the community about the game.

Australian-rules football, known as "footy," made its official debut in the United States during 1998. The Baton Rouge Tigers are in the midst of their first year of national competition.

"The competition itself has just been created, so we're at the groundbreaking level of this," said Patrick Muller, team captain, coach, and one of the founders of the Baton Rouge Tigers.

Visitors learned the rules of the game, which is played in four 20-minute quarters, and engaged in practice drills for various maneuvers used in the sport. Tigers players informed the attendees that the main misconception about Australian-rules football is that it's based on the same game as American football. In fact, the Aussie sport is more a combination of football, soccer and basketball.

In the sport, 36 players, 18 from each of two teams, kick and "handball" the Australian football on an oval-shaped field, which is 200 yards long by 150 yards wide. A "handball" is similar to a volleyball serve.

In "footy," team members may not throw the ball, and may not carry the ball long distances, unlike in American football.

"You can run with the ball, but you can't run more than 15 yards," said Robert Montanaro, one of the founders of the Baton Rouge Tigers and team player. "At 15 yards, you have to kick the ball, pass the ball by 'handballing,' or you can bounce the ball and then keep running. Being an oval-shaped ball, there's a certain amount of skill in bouncing the ball and getting it to come back to you."

The object is to project the ball through any two of four upright goalposts. The two inner goalposts are approximately 20 feet high and the two outer goalposts are approximately 10 feet high. Teams receive six points for getting the ball between the taller, center goalposts, which are spaced 7 yards apart. Teams receive one point for getting the ball between a taller goalpost and one of the outer goalposts.

In Australian-rules football, scoring is a common feat. "Professionals score from 80 to 120 points per game," said Ryan Ketron, another Baton Rouge Tiger.

This unique game was a hit among the many children who attended Saturday's clinic.

"It's different and not everybody knows about it, so it's fun," said Nick Meyn, 14, of Kenner.

The enthusiasm of the young participants toward the sport is a positive step toward lifelong, active lifestyles.

"If you can get children into an outdoor mentality at a younger age, then they develop a fitness mindset they can carry throughout their life," Montanaro said. "As opposed to a mindset of being inside, not exercising, and being more sedentary, which leads to more health problems later on."

In addition, the sport offers insight into Australian recreation.

"We came out here so the kids could learn about a new sport from a different culture," said Dana Wiese of Baton Rouge, who attended Saturday's event with her husband and three children.

If interested in this rough-and-tumble sport, the Baton Rouge Tigers are looking for new players.

"Our players range from 18 to 40," Montanaro said. "Some of the other teams have players in their 50s. It's open to all ages. Like training for any sport, you start at the level you're at and work up from there. We are accepting new players all the time."

If the game sounds exciting to some, but they're not ready for on-the-field action, the Baton Rouge Tigers have taken measures to attract spectators and inform people about the game.

"For any spectators who are newcomers, we give a handout to explain the rules so people can understand what's going on," Montanaro said.

Fans may expect an exciting season from his team, Montanaro said.

"If people are interested in watching a fast-paced, free flowing, contact-form of football," Montanaro said, "then this is something to do and will probably be something they have not seen before."

Next Game:
WHO: The Tigers play the Dallas Magpies, one of 45 national teams.
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: BREC's Burbank Soccer Complex.
NOTE: Bring lawn chairs and blankets for seating.

- Kristin Grant

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