Inclusive sports program sees wheelchair footballer scoring goals and loving every point

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Central Australian teenager Caleb Namatjira-McMillan is in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop him from playing football.

The 18-year-old has Category 1 cerebral palsy, which means he will never be able to walk and needs help with daily chores.

“We tried inclusive sports around town and they see the wheelchair and they say, ‘Oh, we’re not quite there’, or ‘We can’t put that on a pitch’, la Mr. Namatjira-McMillan’s tutor, Anne-Marie Temple, said.

But the turning point came when they met Tommy Dutton, the AFL’s remote development manager in Central Australia.

Anne-Marie Temple has been caring for Caleb Namatjira-McMillan since she was six months old.(

ABC Alice Springs: Saskia Mabin

)

“We went down to the (AFL) offices here and said, ‘This is what we have, this is what we work with. “

“We really want to be part of the AFL – how do we get there? “”

“Tommy hasn’t even blinked, he just wants’ yes we can do it, and we’ll get there,” Ms Temple said.

A man kicks a soccer ball towards a set of goal posts while a group of children seated behind the posts watch.
Tommy Dutton says the training sessions aim to empower people through sport.(

ABC Alice Springs: Saskia Mabin

)

Now Mr Namatjira-McMillan plays AFL every Wednesday, as part of a new program in Alice Springs for people who want to play sports but cannot engage with existing clubs.

“It makes you feel in the end that you weren’t just a label,” Ms. Temple said.

A man in a wheelchair kisses a woman under the goal posts on a soccer field.
Tommy Dutton says the best part of the program is “knowing that people are having fun, that they feel safe and that they have a smile on their face.”(

ABC Alice Springs: Saskia Mabin

)

Sport and social bond

The program is still in its infancy, but Mr Dutton said there has already been an interest of 50 people.

“I realized there was a greater need to involve more community members who may be lacking in programs like this,” he said.

“It’s for the whole community, so the people who maybe aren’t engaged, maybe they’re not working right now, or they’re on a disability plan and they’re looking for programs. where they can just be involved but be socially connected. “

Two smiling men, both wearing caps and sports shirts.
Tommy Dutton started the program with team leader and security guard Laz Connelly. (

ABC Alice Springs: Saskia Mabin

)

Ms Temple said the effect on Mr Namatjira-McMillan’s life had been profound.

“[Tommy] really made an impact on our lives because he made Caleb feel that he was not just an observer of his community – he is an active member of his community, ”she said.

A screenshot from a TikTok video showing a man in a wheelchair kicking a soccer ball.
Ms Temple says Mr Namatjira-McMillan enjoys the instant gratification of posting to TikTok, not to mention the recognition he gets in public.(

Provided: TikTok

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The notoriety of social networks

Ms Temple said she documented Mr Namatjira-McMillan’s football training sessions and posted videos on TikTok.

She didn’t realize the significance of these videos until she and Mr. Namatjira-McMillan visited her home community to help coach an AFL junior team.

“We went out and Caleb said hello to the whole team and they all said to me ‘He’s my uncle, he’s my cousin,'” she said.

“And then all of a sudden I hear that ‘tick, tick, tick’ – and everyone had been watching it on TikTok.

“They can see Caleb isn’t just that uncle or nephew that’s right there, he’s an active party.

“He does what they do – he plays soccer.”


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