By Shelby Brooks
A Casey local has coached a women’s deaf football team to victory when it took on its interstate rival last weekend.
Coach Max Eyking, from Botanic Ridge, is also deaf and led the WDevils to win by 23 points in their second annual match.
“I love getting involved in sports, especially in the deaf community,” Eyking signed through an interpreter; Amber Hae Hae.
The women’s side was established in 2017 as part of Deaf Football Victoria, which started a men’s side back in 1964.
“It started with the AFLW. All the women in the deaf community wanted the same equality,” Eyking said.
The DevilsW took on a combination of deaf women’s players from other states, who formed the Rebels.
This is the 22-year-old’s first year as coach for the women’s team.
Eyking’s first encounter with Deaf Football Victoria was in 2013, when he was a runner for the men’s team.
Although injury kept him from playing, Eyking’s passion for football and love for deaf sport earned him the position of coach for the women’s side.
The match, held in Yarraville, was a fight for the Tanya Morgan Shield – which was inaugurated in Adelaide last year.
The only difference to a hearing AFL match, Eyking explained, is throughout the game, umpires wave brightly coloured flags instead of using a whistle.
“Deaf people are very good with their eyes. It’s like hearing people with their ears,” Eyking said.
Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is the primary form of communication for the team.
“I’m deaf. They’re deaf. So communication is pretty effective,” Eyking said.
Precious Dennis, a first-year player on the team said: “It feels good communicating in Auslan and it makes me feel comfortable as well.”
Dylan Beasley, secretary of Deaf Football Victoria said the club aims to create a place for members of the deaf community in Victoria to play the sport they love.
“Some of them do not play with their local club because they don’t feel they belong or because they do not get a fair go, which is extremely common, unfortunately,” Beasley said.
Like some players, Heidi Ellich-Beasley, has started playing with a hearing team after discovering her passion for the game when she joined the WDevils.
“(In) this deaf team, it’s easier communication for me,” she said.
“The other hearing team it’s a bit of a barrier. But they are improving their learning to make it more deaf-friendly.”
Eyking hopes one day the AFL will fully integrate deaf culture into the game, for players and supporters alike.
“It is not about their loss of hearing. It is about their skills,” Eyking said.
“We have this event to make hearing people more aware that, ‘Wow, deaf people can play!’ and break down some barriers for the future.”