National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

When God joins the team

October 2013

by Chris Button

What could one particular group of African, Indigenous Australian and Caucasian teenage girls from Kilburn have in common?

An extreme level of passion and enthusiasm for the game of Australian Rules Football.

These girls make up the culturally diverse Kilburn Chicks, the under-16 Aussie Rules girls team participating in Adelaide’s North-Eastern Metro Junior Football Association, coached by a footy-mad and dedicated Lutheran, Mal Thiel.

Not only is the team diverse in ethnicity, it is diverse in spirituality as well.

‘Religiously, [in the team] there’s Muslims, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, those who believe in the Aboriginal Dreamtime and those who simply define themselves as Christians’, Mal said. ‘Then I’ve got those who have no concept of God.’

The football team is not just an outlet for the girls to play sport. The team also provides a supportive environment to care for those who may be experiencing difficult times in their lives.

Establishment of the team was far from easy—it almost never happened, according to Mal, who had received coaching offers from the Modbury and Golden Grove girls’ football teams as well.

‘I didn’t want to go’, Mal said, regarding the initial club meeting at Kilburn, citing harsh experiences in the suburb growing up. ‘Kilburn Footy Club is rough—I grew up in the neighbouring suburb and hated the place.’