Ausnew Home Care | Meet the Rockets, the all-abilities Australian rules team changing lives and a community

Meet the Rockets, the all-abilities Australian rules team changing lives and a community

disability Disability Employment Services disability law disability stereotypes intellectual disability Living With a Disability NDIS NDIS Aged Care Approved no ‘dis’ in disability. Seeing the ability in disability umbrella of disability

If it's Wednesday in the winter, Peter Keath is going to be talking footy at work. A lot.

"I like training day," he says. "Yeah, we got good players."

Working alongside Keath as he scrubs a car clean is teammate Tyler Wilson. By now, he's used to the conversation that goes on throughout the day as footy training approaches.

"What are we doing tonight, Tyler? Are we going to kick some goals tonight? Hang out with mates?"

Tyler and Peter wearing high vis shirts at work, chatting with smiles. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Tyler Wilson and Peter Keath work together in Kyabram.(ABC News: Leonie Thorne)

Both men play for the Echuca Moama Rockets, an Aussie rules footy team for players with intellectual disability.

They're part of a disability service provider work crew in Kyabram, in northern central Victoria.

Even after work, on the half-hour drive to Echuca-Moama on the Victorian-New South Wales border, the footy talk doesn't stop.

"Tonight, will we have a good training day?" Keath asks.

"We'll have a good training day," Wilson agrees.

Peter Keath looking excited as he handballs a footy through a hoop.
Peter Keath trains with the Rockets every Wednesday.(ABC News: Leonie Thorne)

The Rockets were born 12 years ago. Local footy coach Mark McGann — known to all as Cheezel for his red hair — noticed a group of players on their own at the oval. He had questions.

"Why are they … pushed across the other side of the ground? And why [aren't] there more people being involved in helping these people out?"

Cheezel and a player wearing blue "Rockets" beanies and holding footballs.
Mark McGann — aka Cheezel (left) — founded the team 12 years ago.(ABC News: Leonie Thorne)

Working with team manager Suellen Betts, mother of one of the original Rockets, the all-abilities team quickly started to build momentum.

"One great thing about Aussie rules football is that it can be played by virtually anyone … no matter what their size, weight, whatever," McGann said.

"When I saw this, I thought, 'Well, it's definitely applied to this as well'."

Suellen smiling with her arm around her son Jordan's shoulders.
Suellen Betts's son, Jordan, was one of the original Rockets players.(ABC News: Norman Hermant)

The Rockets cover a wide spectrum of ages, and the team is mixed with women playing alongside men.

Friends Kellie McIntosh and Jessica Olle have bonded while playing footy.

"It gives you energy, running around and catching the ball … it's good," Olle said.

Jessica and Kellie watching the coach speak during a sunset training session.
Jessica Olle (centre left) and Kellie McIntosh are friends outside of the Rockets too.(ABC News: Leonie Thorne)

Rockets players live with different levels of intellectual disability — something coach Graeme Glanville has learned to take into account.

"The biggest challenge, I think, is working out the right way to talk to the individual players," Glanville said.

Glanville's been coaching the Rockets for about five years. Like many of those involved with the team, he has a personal connection. He son plays for the Rockets.

"I just love it. I love watching them get out there and get a smile and get near the football and enjoy themselves," Glanville said.

Graeme is pointing at a diagram of the footy oval, surrounded by the Rockets team at halftime.
Rockets coach Graeme Glanville discussing tactics with the team at a recent game.(ABC News: Norman Hermant)

During games, the priority is not so much the score, as it is the experience for the players.

"Some of 'em are full-on footballers that are brilliant at it … and others, they're not an athlete really at all," Glanville said.

"We try to accommodate everyone. It's all-ability. So, even if we gotta carry you around out there, we'll figure out a way to get you a kick."

A Rockets player in a blue jersey kicking the ball in a game, other players, including a young man in a wheelchair, watch.
The Rockets play against other all-abilities teams across regional Victoria.(ABC News: Norman Hermant)

The Rockets play in the Victorian Football Integration Development Association, a competition for players with an intellectual disability.

About every three or four weeks, a series of games are scheduled on a weekend in different regional towns.

Rockets' players and their families get to experience something most Australians take for granted.

Peter is giving the thumbs up while waiting with other players on a footy oval.
Some players travel from around the region for training nights in Echuca.(ABC News: Leonie Thorne)

"They can have a typical day of footy, just like everybody else," Betts explained.

"Mum and dad can go to the footy, watch their child play, just like a regular family. So, that's all you want in life, really.

"Some of these parents have never thought their child would play footy [or] would have a day of travelling around the countryside supporting them."

A row of parents leaning over the fence at a footy oval watching training, three are wearing blue Rockets beanies.
Parents watching a recent Rockets training session in Echuca.(ABC News: Leonie Thorne)

Wilson's parents have seen him blossom during his time with the Rockets. He's gone from being painfully shy and quiet, to forming friendships with his teammates.

"He's really out of his shell now. It's great," Gary Wilson said.

"It gets us out of the house. And we love supporting, not just Tyler, but all of them. They're a great bunch of guys and girls," Elaine Wilson said.

Tyler Wilson wearing a blue Rockets jersey, standing between his parents Gary and Elaine.
Tyler Wilson and his parents, Gary and Elaine, love travelling for games.(ABC News: Norman Hermant)

Over the years, the Rockets have become a familiar part of the Echuca-Moama sports scene. There are close connections with Echuca United, the town's other footy team. Many Rockets players help out during their games.

And, like Keath and Wilson, many Rockets players are part of supported work crews run by disability service provider Vivid.

An older man holds a footy, preparing to kick, while other Rockets players line up behind him.
The Rockets train on Wednesday evenings in Echuca.(ABC News: Leonie Thorne)

Over the years, Vivid chief executive Scott Alexander has witnessed the impact that being part of a team has had on the men and women who play for the Rockets.

"If I was to pinpoint one thing, it's that growth in self-belief, confidence and social interaction. It's very healthy," Alexander said.

A group of eight Rockets team members standing near a footy goal, basked in golden light from the sunset.
The Rockets Aussie rules team formed 12 years ago.(ABC News: Leonie Thorne)

For those who make this team go — the coaches, the managers, the families — it's a major commitment. Hours spent setting up and running training, fundraising and organising travel to games.

But they wouldn't trade it for a second.

"It brings great joy, not just to these guys and girls wanting to play a game of football, but to everyone that's involved," McGann said.

"The satisfaction of watching these smiles on these faces, not just on the players, but even on the parents and the carers on the sidelines … it's a great, great thing to be involved in."


Source: ABC

Older Post Newer Post