NOWRA High School’s Slade Wellington experienced what it is like to play Australian football for NSW/ACT when he was selected for the team to contest the 2014 Under 15 National Kickstart Championships.
Over 150 players from all states participated in the AFL indigenous program, which provides players with an opportunity to test themselves against the best emerging indigenous players from around the country.
NSW hosted the fourth year of the championships, which were held from April 10 to 14 at Coffs Harbour.
It is not easy playing for NSW in an Australian football competition against the sport’s powerhouse states Western Australia and South Australia.
But this did not deter Slade, who said he was excited and nervous after he found out he had made the NSW/ACT squad.
“It was a really big step up. They were really good players – Western Australia had the best players I have ever seen,” he said.
The teams competed in a round-robin competition before entering a knockout finals series.
Slade said his team’s final game against Northern Territory was a highlight of the tournament.
“We played really well against Northern Territory. The team all stepped up, and although we lost, I was really impressed with how the guys improved,” he said.
Northern Territory went on to play Western Australia in the grand final, but were defeated 98-30.
At the end of the tournament 30 players are selected for the Australian indigenous under 15 team, the Flying Boomerangs.
Although Slade was unsuccessful in this selection, he said the experience was worth it.
“It was a really good to play against really good people who live and breathe the game,” he said.
The journey to compete for their state was not just about playing Australian rules for the NSW/ACT team.
For Slade to be selected he had to attend a trial at the National Indigenous Excellence Centre in Redfern where he underwent intense fitness and ball handling skills testing.
Apart from football ability, to gain a spot on their state team as a part of the Adam Goodes Talent Program, Slade was also considered based on leadership qualities, school attendance and community involvement.
During the Kickstart championships players were given further development opportunities for other parts of the football industry such as umpiring, coaching and administration with local indigenous people engaged in these leadership positions for each team.
The young players also met indigenous AFL players and engaged in leadership seminars, information sessions on cultural awareness and indigenous identity classes.
Slade has played Australian rules for four years after following his father, Greg into the game.
The 14-year-old is now in his second year playing for the Bomaderry Tigers.
“I like that it keeps me active and I get to work on my skills with the ball and my fitness,” he said.
Slade’s father Greg has coached the NSW/ACT side in the past but stepped down this year to make way for his son.
Greg said he would like to see more young players take the sport up locally
“AFL is a great chance to explore many skills. You get to hand ball, mark, kick goals. Even if your team is losing every player still gets a chance to play a part and touch the ball,” he said.
“The local competition has a lot of supporters and because it is not the main sport in the Shoalhaven, you find the kids just want to have fun and participate.”
If you are interested in taking up the sport, visit www.aflnswact.com.au