2005 saw the beginning of a new era for Australian Rules Football in Chicago. The formation of the Chicago Australian Football Association (C.A.F.A.) has totally changed the face of Aussie Rules in the Windy City.
Back in 1998, Aussie Rules first emerged in Chicago under the guise of “The Mob”. This was a joint effort made up of players from Chicago and Milwaukee. As footy grew, the Mob became 2 clubs, the Milwaukee Bombers and the Chicago Swans.
The boys from Chicago affiliated with the Sydney Swans and have played as the Chicago Swans ever since. A few years later a new club was created, the Illinois Ironmen. The Ironmen battled for a while but never really took off like their members hoped. Soon a breakaway group, the Southport affiliated Chicago Sharks was born. Made up of mostly disgruntled Ironmen and the fruits of an aggressive recruiting campaign, the Sharks formed into an organization much better prepared to take on the task of growing Aussie Rules in Chicago. Unfortunately for the Ironmen, they never recovered from the split.
For the past few years, the Swans and Sharks have both played in Chicago, the Swans predominantly in the MAAFL, the Sharks in the local league as well as additional scheduled games. Chicago was the first city to really have 2 separate clubs in the one place, one team an established identity in the USAFL, the other a younger, up and coming club.
Initially both thought of each as “the other Aussie Rules team”. A lot of time was spent on competing for players, sponsors and supporters, a lot of wasted time. Aussie Rules, still in its infancy here in the United States was not growing in Chicago. Both clubs started to realize this and slowly but surely, a positive relationship between the two clubs was emerging. Joint trainings lead to player interaction and before we knew it, we realized that we were all here for the same reason, to play footy in and for Chicago.
The first time the two clubs played as a single Chicago team was against the New York Magpies last year. The idea of a Chicago Representative Team had become a reality. Unfortunately, the Chicago boys lost the game in the dying minutes by about a goal. The result was upsetting, but it showed us what we could do. This was the beginning of what would become the C.A.F.A. Later in 2004, the two clubs decided that this is how footy in Chicago would exist from now on. In October, a single Chicago team traveled to Atlanta for the USAFL Nationals.
Both clubs had been working together in 2004 at establishing a successful Metro League. With some success, the Metro League became a major part of the Chicago season. For 2005, this was seen as the best way to grow the game, playing solely in MAAFL games was not terribly inviting to the much needed newcomers. The Metro League would be used as a feeder system to the higher level MAAFL squad.
Chicago Australian Rules Football comprises of now a Metro League and a MAAFL Representative team under an umbrella organization, the Chicago Australian Football Association. The Metro League is where our recruits can learn the game and be involved without the pressure of the MAAFL competition. It enables players who cannot travel to play footy in Chicago. It is an inclusive initiative designed to allow everyone to learn and play Aussie Rules. The C.A.F.A. Metro League has received fantastic support from QAFL clubs Southport and Labrador. So much so that Labrador is sending over a player to help with the formation of the Metro system. As part of this, the C.A.F.A. and the QAFL have developed a player exchange with one of our young American players making the trip to Queensland this season. The QAFL appreciates how hard it is to promote a sport in an unfamiliar area and have been amazing with their assistance.
Chicago will also have the C.A.F.A. Representative side playing in the MAAFL under the newly created United jumpers. Alternatively, we recognized the importance to retain our AFL affiliation and the Sydney Swans have also been great with their efforts. The Sydney Swans have sent over current AFL players in the past. Current Sydney player Jared Crouch has a “mailbag” section on the C.A.F.A. website where he answers questions from enquiring football fans. The Swans have continuously donated footballs and jumpers and have arranged a C.A.F.A. scholarship program not unlike that of the USAFL and Essendon.
Between the MAAFL and the Metro League, the C.A.F.A. has plenty of footy for all. With support like this, a lot of hard work and a solid plan in place, we feel the development, survival and growth of Aussie Rules in Chicago is a sure thing.