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Thursday, July 16 2020 @ 11:40 pm ACST

First high school side in the US

North America

The Golden Gate AFL was one of the groundbreaking leagues in the US, amongst a handful to seriously commit to development of a local city league ahead of interstate travel. This lead is now being followed in other regions of the United States. Now the league has seen another leading spin-off with the development of possibly the first high school club in the US.

Jeff Finsand formerly played with the Golden Gate Roos in San Fransisco and has been running a junior competition for the past couple of years. He recently announced that they have successfully started a high school based side. Although there have been some good developments previously in Chicago and the very promising work of Denis Ryan for USFooty (see US Footy Kids program gains momentum), an actual side coming out of a high school does not appear to have happened until now.

The school is "Las Lomas" in Walnut Creek. Jeff explains how it's getting started: "The Footy Club is just now being established. There is a core of some 30 kids who want to play. The field use is not yet established, with soccer and lacrosse filling most of the weekday after school time". There is some overlap with the other outside of school junior teams Jeff has been running, with the new side mostly freshmen and a few upperclassmen.

Jeff's juniors league featured 10 matches each of one hour in Spring 2005 (Feb-May), averaging 8-a-side. "So far this winter there have been 7 pick-up matches averaging 11-a-side. Over 50 kids ages 12 to 17 have had at least one match" (those numbers were as of early January 2006).

Another possible development this year is Jeff's juniors heading to Bakersfield (also in California - see the Western USA map on our World Footy Atlas) to take on some of the young players being developed by Leigh Hickling. Although only early days yet for Leigh's squad, with a few players donated by Jeff it could be a great spur for both regions. So far there are no definite plans.

Jeff is also keen to see some of his high school players try out for the US National side the Revolution, if only to show them what to aim for. As yet none of the juniors have gone on to play in the GGAFL but Jeff feels some are ready to make that step, and "2 or 3 of the new upperclassmen could be Revos with a season of adult footy".

Jeff would obviously like as much support as possible, including from the GGAFL. Not everything has worked out so far, but what they've been able to contribute so far has been appreciated. "The GGAFL has loaned us their jumpers in the off season and several players have helped out at juniors events, but the GGAFL is made up of members from all over the bay area and most don't have kids of footy playing age yet. Another hurdle to getting together is that the GGAFL typically runs 2 matches on game day and there's really no time for a juniors match too".

Denis Ryan was full of praise about the program. "I finally met and spent some time with Jeff after the California conference in March. He is just enamored with the game and has a lot of vision. He took me to some land he purchased on the site of an old dump that he wants to build a full sized field on. His comp has basically been for his kids and their friends and they have a lack of opposition to play". In terms of Jeff getting the support the program deserves, Denis was confident "Jeff will stick at it and sooner or later they’ll get it".

Jeff also has one short term dream - to send a team to the 2006 Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament in Canberra. Funding will obviously be tough, and "gaining parental support for 22 kids to skip school for 10 days will not be easy. I'll keep you posted".

Footy got its first break with the ESPN coverage of the VFL/AFL back in the 1980s. There was then a rapid growth in clubs through the 1990s, from zero to perhaps 20 to 30 sides. Not so long ago there was talk of stagnation but in the past 2 years a number of new clubs have formed, there's been a college push, increased stability with the MAAFL and now EAFL, development of metro leagues in numerous cities and overall growth in numbers. With the great work in San Fransisco and Denis Ryan's recent breakthroughs the game may be about to undergo yet another growth spurt in the USA. Whether the stirring giant will keep pace with New Zealand, PNG and South Africa remains to be seen, but its having a fair crack at it, and should pull away from most other nations. Good luck to Jeff and all the new juniors.

Update since interview: Jeff Finsand and Denis Ryan have now made a joint announcement on USFooty.com saying they do intend sending a team to the Barassi tournament and calling for further junior players and help with sponsorship.

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