By Casey Neill
St Kilda Football Club has multicultural recruits in its sights.
The AFL team launched its Next Generation Academy (NGA) at Springers Leisure Centre in Keysborough on Friday 17 February, announcing it would tap into talent in the region through a 24-week program.
Multicultural, indigenous and female players aged 11 to 15 will be its focus.
The Saints’ Lisa Laing said multicultural players were underrepresented in the AFL and the club planned to draft at least one multicultural player from the academy in the next one to three years.
The club recruited ruckman Jason Holmes from Chicago, USA, in 2013.
He’d wanted to get back to playing sport outdoors after years of basketball inside stadiums and attended an AFL combine in Los Angeles.
“One of the greatest ways to be happy is to improve yourself,” he said.
Holmes said there was “no greater opportunity to get yourself among the culture” in Australia than playing the nation’s pastime.
He and several teammates visited nearby schools following the launch.
The AFL’s Gary Brown said Greater Dandenong locals would see a lot more of the Saints thanks to the NGA.
“This is so damn exciting,” he said.
“We’re now using football as that vehicle for integration in a co-ordinated manner.”
Mr Brown praised Parkmore Junior Football Club president Michael Palma for his help in developing the NGA.
Greater Dandenong Mayor Jim Memeti said not all those who took part in the program would end up playing AFL.
“But they will all find a passion and a voice, which will help them throughout their life,” he said.
He said the council encouraged its residents to be active and valued young leadership.
“The Next Generation Academy has both of those functions at its core,” he said.
“While the academy aims to develop on-field talent, it also focuses on off-field life skills.”
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