Wheelchair AFL season kicking off

Published 9:00am 8 June 2023

Wheelchair AFL season kicking off
Words by Jodie Powell

The Redcliffe Tigers AFL Club is one of four foundation clubs in the Queensland Wheelchair Football League, which kicks off on Sunday, June 11.

They will face off against the Ormeau Bulldogs, Beenleigh Buffaloes and Morningside Panthers during the six-game season that runs through June, July, and August.

Tigers president Gayle Wetzel says the club was the first to sign on when AFL Queensland invited teams to join.

“It’s just about being a club that’s totally inclusive and giving everyone the chance to play AFL,” Gayle says.

The Tigers’ inaugural team was selected after a come and try session attended by about 30 would-be players, with Stephen French serving as captain/coach.

Wheelchair AFL is played on a netball court, with five players – two backs, a centre and two forwards - on the field at any time.

Stephen says two able-bodied players can be on the court at a time, with the AFL considering introducing a points system to classify ability similar to that used for wheelchair basketball.

Royal connection

Wheelchair AFL season kicking off

“Wheelchair AFL started about seven years ago in Darwin when the Defence Force played a game on a basketball court in a hangar – and Prince Harry was there to play,” Stephen says.

The prince was in Australia on a month-long military exchange at the time, and Stephen was able to catch up with him last year at the Invictus Games in The Hague.

“My highlight was watching my wife (Elaine) get cuddled by Prince Harry more than once,” Stephen laughs.

He brought home a silver medal in the seated discus, a bronze as part of the quad rugby and beat his personal best in the one-minute indoor rowing by 13m.

“Prince Harry presented the bronze medal to us.”

Stephen joined the Royal Australian Airforce in November 1985 and was medically discharged in November 1996 after snapping a cruciate ligament while stationed in Wagga Wagga.

“It took from February 1986 to December 1987 to reconstruct it,” he says.

Playing by the rules

Wheelchair AFL season kicking off

He’s looking forward to the wheelchair AFL season and says the modified game is easy to follow.

“A handball is a kick and a pass is an under-arm throw – but just about every other rule is the same.

“For a mark, a ‘kick’ has to go 3m or more and holding the ball is three seconds after you’ve touched it.

“The game’s in its infancy in Queensland but we have very, very strong support from Queensland AFL.

“AFL in Queensland has taken it and run with it and they have a very professional attitude towards the game.”

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