How Australian Rules Football Built Up my American Classroom's Culture
I'm fortunate that I've pursued and obtained two dream jobs: professional hockey announcer and educator. Between the two, however, was a span of nearly five years where I sought a stable transition into a new chapter of life. This period involved stints in car rental management, local TV ad sales, substitute teaching, and ultimately the completion of my teaching credential.
Aside from my wife, my experience working in college and professional sports media both college informed much of my working philosophy. The launch of my teaching career allowed for a great deal of personal reflection about my interests and a resentment I held about the imbalanced influence of professional football on American culture. This led to the launch of my first experience with web writing: A Year Without Football.
The premise was to chronicle an entire year as an American sports fan who had removed any and all access or awareness to American football at all levels. The experiment ended up doubling as a journal of my shift into fatherhood, as we learned of our first pregnancy on Day 2 of the Year. It was featured on Reddit, SI.com, Slate, SportsGrid, and local TV (and ended up in a University of Kentucky thesis compared to the Julia & Julia blog of motion picture fame).
A popular facet of A Year Without Football was a running record of a world sport to experience new athletic endeavours that could fill the void. The most engaging of these would be Australian Rules Football. It so happened that when I wrote about the Australian Football League's 2010 Grand Final ending in a draw that I was one of only a handful of Americans to write about the unusual event. The idea of a major championship not only ending in a tie, but resulting in a REPLAY one week later, was captivating, and served as the launching point for a unique partnership.
I began working full-time at Voorhies Elementary in 2011, and immediately sought to bring the world of sport to my classroom. I e-mailed governing bodies of sports across the country inquiring about ways to engage my students with their game. This included contacting the United States Australian Football League, who had been familiar with my blog coverage, and offering to write K-12 lessons that aligned with the new Common Core State Standards in both Language Arts and Math. The hope was that they might send some equipment for PE.
Instead, the USAFL offered to organize a day-long clinic at Voorhies, run by the league's president, a member of the US Women's National Team, AND the head coach of the U.S. Men's National Team.
The USAFL went above and beyond what I could have anticipated for my 6th graders, and with that the focus and purpose of our lessons changed. Overnight, our formerly 2-day OR lesson became a quarter-long unit that integrated language arts (reading and comprehending the official rules), math (designing a formula for keeping score), and physical education (applying unique skills from various sports into an unfamiliar game). The culminating activity would be a demonstration and explanation of the game to these visiting representatives at the top of the sport.
Australian Rules Day was rolled out as a cultural experience for nearly 500 of our K-5 students. My class had the unique opportunity to interact more deeply with our guests with a late twist: local media coverage. Two TV crews and a radio reporter visited our clinic to document the day.
Not only were we interacting with the country's predominant experts of the content they had been studying, but now they were able to communicate their experience with news crews that would broadcast their words to tens of thousands of people in the Bakersfield television market.
When your class is doing things right, the world takes notice. It calls louder, knocks on your door and lets itself be known as eyes fall upon your classroom. Its mechanisms and opportunities become clearer and more attainable for every child.