Contributed by: Wesley Hull
Just last week the Hawai’i Eagles held a small inner club match. The grey team defeated the blue team on a cold, wet and windy – almost Melbourne like day – in what the club thinks may be the first ever Australian Rules game played in Hawai’i.
However, the bigger picture is the club’s inclusion within the USAFL – to date the biggest vindication of their efforts and acknowledgement of their presence on the North American footy scene. To mark that event, Brian Barrish from the USAFL wrote the following article for the www.usafl.com website.
Dallas McCulloch arrived in Honolulu with a bit of an itch to scratch.
He had played Aussie Rules for the Austin Crows before heading to Australia, where he spent four months playing for the North Brunswick Bulls of the VAFA. Well, sort of.
“We had several inner club scrimmages and whatnot,” the Michigan native told USAFL.com, “but only 2 weeks into the regular season when I had moved away, and being the newbie American I understandably wasn't getting play time. I had done all of that training, but never even got to take part in a real game out there, and then moved away while I was right in the middle of it.”
Coming to Hawai’i, McCulloch wanted to keep playing. He put out feelers on social media looking for folks to have a kick with.
He got one reply, from a former member of the LA Dragons.
That was in the spring of 2017. Nearly two years later, McCulloch now has more than a dozen men and women around him to kick and scrimmage with. He also has the backing of the Australian Consulate in town, and the defending AFL Premiers.
The Hawai’i Eagles officially joined the USAFL as the league’s 43rd team last week. They’ve been holding weekly scrimmages and informal kick arounds for almost a year, and this Sunday will be their first official metro game. Details can be found here.
All of that seemed a far way off back in 2017, when McCulloch had put footy on the back burner after the low response to his meetups. He was in a band, working as a musician and tour manager, and was otherwise adjusting to life in his new home.
Then, last year, he got a message from another former Austin Crow. Ben Carpenter-Nwanyanwu, who had helped steer the Texan side to three D1 titles and had won the AFL IC17 MVP award with the USA Revolution, had just moved to Honolulu. McCulloch was in Europe on a musical tour, but planned to have a kick with “Chippy” when he returned.
“Ben and I didn't know each other, but we both played with the Austin Crows and had played in Australia, so we had mutual friends and knew of each other. When I got home from Sweden in August we decided to meet up and have a kick, and started working on making things work for real.”
Both men reached out to friends who lived in the area and were able to cobble together a group of five to have regular kicks near world famous Diamond Head on Oahu’s south coast, including two people that McCulloch knew through the punk rock circuit. During one of their weekly kick arounds, they were approached by an Aussie named Colin Burrows.
“Turns out he had seen my post in the Aussies abroad group, and couldn't make that session but still wanted to introduce himself as a footy player who is here working for the Consulate,” McCulloch explained. “A few minutes later Chrissy and Belle rolled up as well wearing their Bombers and Hawks gear, respectively, and they heard about this from Col at the consulate. From then on Col has been super heavily involved in everything, and has been a major driving force in making it happen.”
As the group started planning an AFL Grand Final party in Honolulu, McCulloch and Burrows started reaching out to teams in Australia in hopes of forming a partnership. “I had emailed some VFL and AFL clubs to see if anyone would want a new start up team to be an official affiliate,” McCulloch said. “I figured it couldn't hurt to ask, and being a tropical island that Aussies frequently visit couldn't hurt our odds.”
In the lead-up to their eventual Grand Final win, the West Coast Eagles answered the call from the Aloha State. Communications Manager Gary Stocks was the point person in Perth, and indicated that the club was, in McCulloch’s words, “super keen” on an affiliation. “A few days after our talks began they won the Grand Final, and we knew we couldn't turn down an affiliation with the Premiers.”
With Hawai’i, the West Coast Eagles now have two USAFL affiliates; the other being the DC Eagles, who have been associated with West Coast since their days with the Baltimore-Washington tag.
As the first official metro match draws near, the Hawai’ian side’s dozen or so players are keen to not only establish themselves, but to bring more current and future enthusiasts of the game into their ranks. The mix between locals and Australians has been solid, with a good number drawn from the pub and punk scene in Honolulu. McCulloch believes that in a state where established sports rule, that footy can find a home.
“Hawai'i has a huge American Football presence for it's population,” he stated, “and rugby is giant with the large Samoan and Tongan populations here, so adding another full tackling ball sport to the mix seems to make sense. But we've had a wide range of ages, races, religions, ethnic groups, nationalities, etc. which is super awesome, but it's to be expected when you're in such a diverse place like Hawai'i.”
That they are so far away from the US mainland is, in McCulloch’s words, a “blessing and a curse. While we probably won't be able to make every tournament in North America due to distance, we are fortunate to be in one of the most desirable tourism destinations on the planet, so hopefully we can bring teams in here.
“Our distance from the USA makes USAFL games tricky, but hopefully we can become more involved with some matches against AFL Asia teams. It's cheaper to get to Japan from here than anywhere else, and getting to Australia can be cheaper than getting to the West Coast at times.”
The Eagles are looking to make their inter-club debut at the Western Regionals in Salem, Oregon on July 27th. For now, however, it’s about growing the game and intertwining the culture of the game with that of Hawai’i. The union’s 50th state has an indigenous culture not unlike in Australia, and McCulloch wants his team to inherit the spirit of the islands they represent.
“The Hawai'i Eagles Football Club acknowledge and pays respect to the native Hawaiians, who are the traditional custodians of this land. Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono.”
To read the original story on the USAFL website and other articles, go to: http://usafl.com/news/20190208/aloha-aussie-rules-hawaii-eagles-join-usaflωfbclid=IwAR0douyQYYNZcGZqouqCetlSC30nnxc90QlupciugEFZodMAR1_0XkGbBI0
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