The Right Footy

by May 7, 2024North Brunswick, Sports, Wilmington

With the Wilmington Bombers, Australian-style football continues to kick off in Wilmington.

Wilmington local and Aussie expat Rob Condon, founder of the nonprofit Youth Science Academy, showing perfect kicking form at a Bombers practice.

You do not have to head down under for Aussie-style football. In fact, it has taken root right here in the Port City. The high-contact sport, similar yet different from rugby, is played between two teams of 18 players on an oval field and is divided into four 20-minute long quarters.

Nic Parker, an Australian native, grew up playing the sport back home. But after meeting his now-wife while exploring Europe on a backpacking trip and tying the knot, Parker made the move to the East Coast from overseas — and he brought his love of the sport stateside.

Wilmington Bombers Australian Football

After initially landing in Portland, Maine, Parker made the move south to Wilmington in 2021 in search of warmer weather.

“When I lived in Portland there was a team I started up there as well,” Parker says. “When we made the move to the Wilmington area, the goal was to get something going here and to find people to kick the footy with.”

Believe it or not, it all started on Facebook. After Parker posted online to gauge interest, Wilmington residents showed enthusiasm for taking up the sport — from fellow Aussie expats to Port City locals.

Dubbed the Wilmington Bombers, the football club currently meets on Saturdays from 10 to 11 am at Robert Strange Park Downtown. They will switch to Wednesday nights from 6 to 7 pm during daylight savings time.

“We teach people the basics,” Parker says. “Things like holding and handling the ball, how to kick it and how to put those skills into drills and handle the ball for games.”

For a quick rule rundown, Aussie football features components of rugby (such as tackling) and soccer (kicking) but lacks certain safety components seen in the aforementioned sports (such as padding). And footy players have the freedom to roam the entire field, regardless of position. Beyond using kicking as a method to move the ball, handballing is a popular tactic and similar to a volleyball serve.

Wilmington Bombers Football Australian

“The game starts in the center and it has a basketball setup where you try to tap the ball to your team,” Parker says. “It also has ties to Irish Gaelic football.”

Truly a mixed bag of sports, Aussie football also requires that its athletes run a maximum of 15 meters before they must kick or handball the ball to a teammate — or they can opt to dribble the ball back to themselves. If a player is tackled, they must kick or handball the ball before or during the tackle; otherwise, the opposing team gains a free kick.

“The ball spends a lot of time on the ground, and there’s lots of congestion,” Parker explains.

Adding to the chaos (and fun!) of the game, the second the ball hits the ground, it is a free-for-all for anyone to grab.

Wilmington Bombers

As the weather warms, Australian football clubs spanning the area are gearing up for the competition. The Wilmington Bombers will face off against teams across the Southeast — from Raleigh and Richmond to Atlanta, Nashville and Jacksonville.

When Parker considers the future of the Aussie football league in Wilmington, he hopes to double the size of the team moving forward.

“Everyone from last year is coming back this year,” he says. “There are 15 solid people we can count on. My goal is to double that so we can have enough people to play games in Wilmington among ourselves — because the best way to learn is to come to trainings and scrimmage.”

For those seeking to take their newfound football skills beyond the occasional scrimmage, opportunities abound. Australian football is legit in the States — there are regional and national championships to compete in, a U.S. Australian Football League and even a U.S. National Team.

Australian Football Wilmington NC

“Australian football is a niche sport in America, but it gives the opportunity to travel to Europe or Australia,” Parker says. “You could use [the sport] to live and work in Australia or travel around America playing the game.”

When Parker is not out on the football field, he is spending time with his wife and two young daughters, working as an IT project manager and exploring the vibrant Wilmington restaurant scene.

If you feel like getting into footy, Parker says, “We’re always recruiting and looking for new players. It’s for males and females — it’s for everyone. And kids can join as well.”

Kickstart your Aussie Football Journey:
Wilmington Bombers

Photography by Matt McGraw