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Sacramento Australian Rules Football Club to expand league

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It’s been described as exhilarating and challenging. It’s a sport that combines strategy, physical endurance and teamwork with kicking, passing and scoring goals. It’s not soccer, football or even rugby. It’s Australian rules football – footy for short – and it’s Australia’s own fast-paced team sport. But you don’t have to go Down Under to be a part of the action. Sacramento is home to an ever-growing population of footy enthusiasts and an expanding league.

The Sacramento Australia Rules Football Club (SARFC) is entering its fourth year as an organization and is expanding its league to include a co-ed tag footy facet as well as separate men’s and women’s tackle, full-contact teams.

SARFC is a part of the United States Australian Football League (USAFL), which governs all clubs and teams in the nation.

“(The USAFL is a ) pretty tight knit community,” Amy Bishop, one of the founders of SARFC said.

The co-ed SARFC spring season begins its practices on April 3 at McKinley Park in East Sacramento, and the tackle teams begin playing on May 19 at Nugget Field in Davis.

Traditionally, footy is a full-tackle game. The object of the game is to get the ball from one end to other and score points by putting the ball through a hoop similar to basketball, but with all the kicking of soccer, Amy Bishop said.

Players have positions on the field, but ultimately players go where they are needed, which adds to the intricate web of camaraderie and skill required in games. SARFC plays with nine-12 people per side, with six people on the bench. The game often gets mistaken for rugby, but footy is unique.

Although footy was introduced in the United States 15 years ago, it wasn’t until 2009 that native Australian husband and wife Matt and Amy Bishop founded the local Sacramento league.

The closest team at the time was in the Bay Area.

“We wanted to have a bit of footy here in Sac,” Amy Bishop said. The Bishops moved from Australia to Washington, D.C., then to Davis two years later, and eventually to Sacramento. It was not until she arrived in the United States that Amy Bishop began playing footy, but she said she has been growing and developing with the game ever since.

In 2009, the husband and wife along with fellow footy player Helen Mondia began recruiting people in Sacramento.

“Word of mouth has been a strong selling point,” Amy Bishop said. She went on to explain that their first recruitment event was held in her home, where she and her husband showed neighbors videos of footy being played. And thus the league began to form.

Since that time, the league has grown from 30 members to more than 100 members. Along with its rapid growth, SARFC is also the first league that was started around a creative version of game according to Amy Bishop.

“Usually, it’s a men’s’ sport, but we’ve definitely changed that a lot over the last couple years,” Amy Bishop said.

The league travels all over the country for tournaments in states such as Texas and Ohio, where the USAFL National Tournament will be held this year in October. Teams also travel to play games in other cities along the West Coast, as well as hosting games in Sacramento.

SARFC Board Member Elaine Schreiber was introduced to the sport two years ago and has been playing more and more since joining the league.

“I don’t know how often you talk to Australians, but they’re very friendly,” Schreiber said when asked about how she got involved in footy. “The unique thing about footy is that you’re able to protect your teammates on the field. It’s very much a social league as much as a sports league.”

She added that it’s a constant challenge, and she learns something new each time she takes to the field.

“(Footy is also a) great fallback sport to football,” Amy Bishop said in reference to attempting to recruit recent high school and college graduates.

Erin Sheaffer, 24, played rugby all through college but began playing footy after being approached in a grocery store last year by a league member who noticed her wearing a rugby shirt.

Sheaffer said she had been looking for a women’s rugby league in Sacramento but did not find one that suited her. When an opportunity arose to play a new sport, she accepted and began playing.

“Everyone is really, really inclusive, and I got involved really quickly,” Sheaffer said.

Although the full-contact version of the game is a lot more physically demanding, that is the way Sheaffer recommends playing.

“If someone is looking for a new sport to play, it’s really fun,” she said.

The league is looking for new members, Amy Bishop said.

“People (can) come out and try it and give it a go,” she said. “It’s a great way to get fit and have fun, (and it’s a) great way to see the country.”

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