For Caleb Namatjira-McMillan, football is life. The 19-year-old may be wheelchair bound, but that does not stop him from heading down to his local oval every week to kick the footy with his mates.
- The Footy 4 Life program in Alice Springs is allowing football fans who live with a disability to play their favourite game
- The brainchild of Tommy Dutton, the program is based around encouragement and engagement
- Due to popular demand, the program runs 26 weeks a year after a succesful six-week trial in 2021
Having category one cerebral palsy means he needs help with most tasks and won’t ever be able to walk.
But his legal guardian, Anne-Marie Temple, says Caleb won’t be held back from getting involved and having fun.
“The friends that he’s made down here he classes as his best mates and these people are now fundamental to his life,” Temple said.
“It allows him to have friends, to have mentors, to learn skills like footy kicking and hanging out.”
While heading down to your local oval or sporting complex to play sport — or to simply take part in some exercise — is a luxury that most Australians can thankfully take for granted, that does not apply to all members of society for a multitude of reasons.
However, a unique program out of the Northern Territory is catering for everyone and anyone who simply wants to get involved.
Tommy Dutton is the Remote Development Manager of the AFL Northern Territory’s Alice Springs office and the founder of the Footy 4 Life Wellbeing Wednesday program.
“I just wanted to have a program for the community and what we found was lots of the clientele that were coming through were mainly coming through the National Disability Insurance Scheme or people living with a disability, sort of looking at a program to be a part of, rather than a spectator,” Dutton said.
That is a sentiment that struck a chord with Temple, who recalls when she and Caleb first met with Dutton.
“I didn’t really know what the outcome was going to be, but one thing was sure, Caleb had enough of always being left on the sidelines and excluded,” she said.
Fast forward to now and this program has been virtually tailored to fit Namatjira-McMillan and others with mixed abilities.
“Everyone that comes down is 100 per cent there by choice, whether helping out or participating. Encouragement and engagement is so important to feeling validated,” Temple said.
Since May of last year, Dutton’s team has been inviting local members of the community down to Anzac Oval to take part in the program, which utilises the sport of Australian Rules Football to improve physical and mental health.
Dutton says the initiative is about reconnecting disengaged members of the community who are often overlooked or forgotten in the sporting and exercise space.
“Every Wednesday we have a wellbeing program which is really aimed at people living with a disability, to feel a part of the program, to feel a part of that social connectedness that footy brings as well as having a kick, having a laugh, hitting the tackle bag and just providing a safe and fun place for everyone,” Dutton said.
Wellbeing Wednesday’s are run with the help and support of several other organisations, including the Alice Springs Town Council, which facilitates venue hire, the No More anti-domestic violence initiative, who provide support and healthy meals, as well as Veritable and not-for-profit community-based program provider Life Without Barriers, who have incorporated the session into their day program.
Life Without Barriers provides family and disability support, out of home and aged care and services that assist refugee and asylum seekers.
Day program team leader Devine Mizha said it is all about footy, making friends and, of course, fun.
“We all love footy,” Mizha said. “So we’re all here with our day program clients”.
Mizha said that his clients who take part every week come from a diverse range of the community who have mixed abilities.
“Some of them they are physical, psychological, you name it, intellectual, so we’re just always there to support them to have normal lifestyles, especially the lifestyle support,” Mizha said.
“That is what the day program is mainly about just making sure they lead a normal lifestyle like everybody else and we love it here.”
Day program attendee Isaac Trew plays a starring role at Wellbeing Wednesday and is known for his rousing pep-talks.
“Football’s good, football’s nice, I like to hang around the people and meet friends,” Trew said.
“Football is my favourite sport. It is good, so I love it, so yeah, I’m liking it.”
For Dutton, having a positive, empowering activity once a week provides a great benefit socially, mentally and physically as well as an opportunity to check in with members of the community.
Beyond that, watching the participants grow every week makes the job that extra bit worthwhile.
“Just to be part of a football program that puts a smile on their face, gets them involved and keeps them socially connected, it’s unreal mate, it’s my favourite day of the week to be fair,” Dutton said.
Temple, who has cared for Namatjira-McMillan since he was six months old, said Wednesdays are one his favourite days of the week.
“Caleb really looks forward it. Him and many of the other participants often suffer from different levels of social anxiety, but since they’ve started coming they’ve been cool and calm and thoroughly enjoy it,” she said.
“People pull them over to chat about it in the street and that all helps improving wellbeing, it’s great.”
After an initial six-week trial that began in 2021 the program now runs 26 weeks of the year.
It is open to all and completely free.
Posted 23m ago23 minutes agoTue 28 Jun 2022 at 9:18pm, updated 6m ago6 minutes agoTue 28 Jun 2022 at 9:35pm