May 7, 2016
New Australian sport comes to Cortland
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Former National Rugby League player Brendan Powell, left, who introduced the Australian game of Oztag to Cortland, runs away from defenders Damani Burns and Max Miller, right, Thursday in front of Moffett Hall on the SUNY Cortland campus.
Two lines of more than15 SUNY Cortland students — male and female — and faculty members formed at opposite ends of the lawn in front of the campus’ Moffett Center on Thursday afternoon.
Two teams of eight stared each other down, sweat dripping from their faces, in a stance ready to run at each other.
A whistle blew, one student broke out of line, kicked a rugby ball toward the other group and then madness ensued.
It is not a rugby match, it’s a new non-tackling sport known as Oztag. Directors of thesport, Australian natives Brendan Powell and Scott Park, will be showcasing it across the country throughout the summer, with Cortland being theirfirst stop.
The game is a popular recreational sport in Australia, played by more than 40,000 people. It is played similarly to rugby with the goal being to get the ball from one end of the field to the other. But instead of players tackling each other, they must rip off a cloth Velcroed to the player with the ball to stop a play — much like flag football.
“It’s an all inclusive game,” said Powell. “We have male, female, plus co-ed (leagues). All ages, all abilities. You don’t have to be an athlete to play.”
Powell’s and Park’s love for the sport has pushed them to try to make it international, Powell said. He is a guest lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, which has a teacher exchange and study abroad program with SUNY Cortland. Through connecting with students and faculty from Cortland, Powell said the Cortland campus seemed like a perfect place for Park and he to introduce the sport to North America.
A few SUNY Cortland students played Oztag while studying in Australia — another reason for Powell bringing the sport to Cortland. One of those students is Mary Kopcienski, a sports management graduate student.
“I didn’t know about the sport until I got to Australia and met Brendan,” Kopcienski said. “I played in a game and it wasvery fun. My goal is to work for a sports franchise andI like this because it isinternational.”
Powell and Park performed two demonstrations of Oztag at SUNY Cortland on Thursday — a smaller game in the afternoon and a full-field game in the evening. All students and faculty were encouraged to join. Powell and Park went through a step-by-step process with all players, teaching them the basic rules of the game. The purpose of the demonstrations were to show the school what the game is about and to start the process of establishing an Oztag league in Cortland, Powell said.
“The key reason for introducing it (Oztag) to universities is, obviously, just to introduce the game to the students, so that they’ll actually want to play in the league,” Powell said. “But there is also partnerships we can do with the university. We can have internships, so there are employment opportunities for the students.”
JoEllen Bailey, a professor at SUNY Cortland and coordinator of the physical education study abroad program for student teaching to Australia, said the event got a lot of attention throughout the day and the school is looking into possibly having future Oztag events.
Before putting on the demonstrations at the campus, Powell and Park made their first stop in New York at Cortland High School and ran a couple of demonstrations for a physical education class.
“They absolutely loved it,” Powell said. “The teacher up there actually borrowed our equipment and continued the lessons throughout the day, even though we couldn’t be there.”
The high school is looking to implement the sport into its curriculum, Powell said. He is going to be sending them equipment and a lesson plan on how to teach and play the game.
The school’s physical education teacher could not be reached for comment.
Powell said the game is played in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, England, Japan and multiple island nations. And during Powell’s and Park’s North American tour, they hope to see teams line up from coast to coast..
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