Wheelchair footy is kicking goals

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Jenny Macpherson could not wipe the smile off her face as she manoeuvred hers mobility device toward an oversized yellow balloon, striking it through a set of football posts to score a goal for her team.

‘Go Jenny!’ spectators and her team cheered supportively.

Ms Macpherson is one of about 20 people with a disability from across the Barwon South West area who has joined a weekly social balloon-football game since it was introduced about four months ago.

The sport is a modified version of AFL to suit the needs of people with a disability who are often excluded from taking part in team sports.

It is played on an indoor basketball court and involves Auskick goal posts set up at either end, with a 90 centimetre-diameter balloon acting as the ball.

Regardless of whether or not a player’s disability limits them to using a mobility device, all players must be in a wheelchair – either powered or manual – to ensure everyone is on an even level playing field.

Ms Macpherson, who has been playing balloon football for five weeks, described it as “fun physio”.

“I think everyone with a disability needs to play a sport. There are not enough outlets like this,“ the Bell Park resident said.

“I usually have all of this excess energy but after two hours on the court I feel pretty tired.

“I was a bit nervous when I started playing and I didn’t know anybody, but I feel more confident as I develop my skills. I really love it.

“It will be good when we can have more teams and get a competition going with a proper ladder.”

Developed 20 years ago by two men from Scope, a not-for-profit group supporting people with a disability, there are now over 200 registered balloon football players across Victoria.

Scope’s Manny Pimentel who coordinates the Geelong team said he hopes to gain enough interest and funding to support a league for people in Greater Geelong, with opportunities to compete at state level.

“Balloon football has really taken off in Bendigo and some parts of Melbourne,” he said.

“It gives them the opportunity to play sport like everybody else.

“We’re hoping we’ll be able to get the resources to support enough players for our own weekly comp where we can have a finals playoff.”

Mr Pimentel said balloon football has had a therapeutic effect on many players.

“It’s good therapy. It improves dexterity and strength,” he said.

“There are actually two guys, David and Brendan, who played a high level of competitive football prior to their injuries. They relish the opportunity to once again play competitive sport on a regular basis with their mates and it helps to improve their fitness and movement.

“We had one man who wouldn’t move his legs when he first started but now he’s kicking the ball. It’s exciting to see how much they’ve all improved.

“The other great thing about this sport is that both women and men can play. There’s no discrimination.”

Yesterday the players demonstrated balloon football to the public at a free event in Torquay as part of International Day of People with a Disability. All were welcome to play or express their interest in joining the group for regular games.

Corey Britten was keen to demonstrate the sport to the community on Thursday.

“I look forward to causing some more chaos on the court,” the Belmont resident laughed.

“Playing balloon football gives me more energy.

“I have played totem tennis and racquet ball in the past but I have never seen anything like this sport before.”

Mr Pimentel said there were volunteer opportunities such as scoring, coaching and umpiring and that some schools have shown interest. Families are also welcome to be involved.

He said that those interested in joining or volunteering could call 5221 5444 or email epimentel@scopevic.org.au

Originally published at Geelong Independent.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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