David Kelly is on a mission to bring an inclusive soccer team to eastern Victoria.
Growing up in Lakes Entrance, he developed a love for the game at a young age, playing for a number of clubs with no inclusive teams in the East Gippsland area.
“I love everything about it.
David, who was born with an intellectual disability, said there may be barriers for people with disabilities to play a match at local football clubs.
It wasn’t until he was an adult that he discovered the Victorian Football Integration Development Association (FIDA), a competition designed specifically for people with intellectual disabilities.
Feeling more welcome to play among his peers, David took a six-hour train journey each week to play for the nearest inclusive team in Melbourne’s far east.
Now he wants those same opportunities for his community closer to home.
†[FIDA] is just a lot more fun and easier to deal with,” he said.
“I’ve lived here for 35 years, I grew up in this city – there’s nothing here for people with disabilities.
“It’s always been our goal.”
State now has 28 clubs
Now in its 31st season, there are more than 800 registered FIDA players in 28 clubs in Victoria’s western, central and northern districts.
These leagues cover regional areas including Bendigo, Shepparton and Geelong, but so far the closest team to players living in Gippsland is based in Springvale, nearly 300 miles west of David’s hometown.
Victorian FIDA president Peter Ryan said he was eager for the match to arrive in the region.
“Growing up and playing footy myself, almost every club I played at had someone with a marked intellectual disability who would have loved to put on a jersey and play a game but never got the chance,” he said.
Last year, Kyneton Tigers Football Netball Club incorporated its own FIDA side, providing a new option for players in Central Victoria who previously had to drive a two-hour drive to the nearest league.
FIDA has also received support from the AFL, as well as from Hawthorn Football Club and VFL clubs such as the Box Hill Hawks and the Williamstown Seagulls.
To introduce FIDA to Gippsland, Mr Ryan said at least one local club would have to agree to include an inclusive side.
“It would be great to get a club involved; we’re trying to tie all our teams to existing football clubs,” he said.
“Volunteers are also very important. Anyone interested in participating would be a great help.
“It’s about making people feel welcome at the football club.”
Phillip Island on the forefoot
Last month, the Phillip Island Football Netball Club, located on the Bass Coast, hosted an inclusive football come-and-try day.
Organized by disability advocate and football coach Beau Vernon, the event attracted 32 participants and invited club members and the wider community to watch.
While not associated with FIDA, Mr. Vernon said the day was “a complete success,” one that showed the community’s desire for more organized sports for people with disabilities.
“The idea was to make people feel welcome and involved, and also as a way of educating people [at the club] by being exposed to different people.
“I think there would be a huge demand for this sort of thing” [in Gippsland]†
Club president Chris Ross said there was an outpouring of support for the club after the open day.
“Since then a few people have called us; they have now offered to volunteer for our football club,” he said.
“A lady called us and she wants to volunteer her time to get grants for the club because that’s her expertise.”
He said that while he supported the idea of having a FIDA side, a lack of facilities meant the club were not yet in a position to do so.
Posted † updated
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