As St Kilda heads into the 2022 AFL season, its connection to the Indigenous community has never been stronger.
Four of the club’s most recent draftees are Indigenous, seeing the Saints with a record eight Indigenous players on its current list.
Having come to the club in 2020, ruckman and proud Noongar man Paddy Ryder said that representation was crucial for First Nations footballers.
“It [the Indigenous playing cohort] is something I am really proud to be a part of,” Ryder said.
“The number was pretty low before, so to now have eight on the list is pretty inspirational for other young Aboriginal kids to be able to see these numbers at one footy club.
“It’s also a good reflection on the club to have so many Indigenous players and put the trust in the boys to come in and play their part.”
Three of the 2021 draftees are also graduates of the Saints’ Indigenous Scholarship program, powered by AMC, which is designed to create a clear pathway for young Indigenous players.
Each scholarship holder is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, aged 13-17 and resides in Melbourne’s south.
It is something Ryder says is important for the club to continue to support young Indigenous footballers.
“The pathways through the clubs are just amazing now,” he said.
“For the guys who are in there, and who have come through the scholarship program, they can see they have a clear path to make it to AFL footy.
“It is something that I’m really proud of, to see the club putting time and effort into it, and we are already reaping the rewards with the number of Indigenous players we have on our list.”
Marcus Windhager, one of the graduates of the program and proud Plangermaireener man, said the opportunities provided through AMC were a key part in fast-tracking his development.
“The scholarship was awesome for myself and the other boys who were a part of it,” Windhager said.
“We are really thankful to have had the opportunity to be around the club for the past few years - it made the process of being drafted that much smoother.
“Having access to the facilities and the coaches was really important in our development, whether to help us physically or mentally.
“I think initiatives like the AMC scholarship are important to make sure we continue to see diversity in football. I think they will help grow the game throughout the country and hopefully see more people from different backgrounds playing footy.”
AMC’s Chief Operating Officer Matthew Kaneda-Hession said that it was important to provide the proper pathways and opportunities for athletes from diverse backgrounds to succeed.
“We are huge supporters of furthering multiculturalism and Indigenous representation in footy and ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities,” he said.
“The program does this through covering tuition fees, uniform costs and equipment so these players can focus on honing their craft and don’t have to worry about external factors.
“We are incredibly proud of Marcus, Josiah and Jack on what they have achieved and hopefully we’ll be able to see more of our graduates drafted in the coming years.”
Applications for the AMC Scholarships are now open - apply here.