The AFL Cape York Crusaders faced off against the Cairns Lions in the curtain-raiser clash to last Friday’s (October 20) Hawthorn v Richmond Indigenous Round match.
The 23-person Crusaders team was made up of 16 young women from the AFL Cape York House for Girls, as well as seven remote-based players selected from the Cape and Torres Strait Islands.
Cape York House for Girls boarding manager Sean Hunter said girls selected for the team were not only talented but positive members of the community.
“There’s an element of talent in regards to football, but all the young people representing Crusaders have had to have strong school attendance and positive behaviours at school and in the community,” he said.
Though the Crusaders were defeated by the Cairns Lions this time, Mr Hunter said it had been a great opportunity to play in a special round.
“It happened to be Indigenous Round for the AFLW competition, so a really great opportunity for our young girls to represent their culture, family and community,” he said.
After the curtain-raiser, the young footballers had the chance to stay for the professional match and cheer on Hawthorn, with which the team has formed a strong connection.
“It was just a really nice synergy and opportunity for our girls to potentially see what they could be if they choose to take their football seriously and go down the pathway of becoming a professional,” Mr Hunter said.
The Crusaders team is a program offered by the AFL Cape York House in Cairns, a boarding school that assists young people from remote communities in accessing secondary education in a culturally safe and secure environment.
Residing in Cairns allows young people to access more opportunities through work experience, tutelage and other services not provided in remote communities, to support them throughout their education journey.
“We definitely don’t want to take away from what community provides because it’s a significant part of their identity, so we’re just trying to provide another outlet for young people to fill their toolbox of life skills,” Mr Hunter said.
He said football was one of the tools used to teach the girls about the fundamentals that come with team sports, such as confidence and a sense of belonging.
“We use football as an opportunity to strengthen our health and wellbeing program, and as a vehicle to reward young people who are doing the right thing in terms of their effort, attitude and behaviour,” he explained.
“The program really just emphasises that responsibility, respect and pride that they have in the community and that family have of them. We’re really trying to embrace that and recognise their efforts.”