By Ben Pollard
As the AFL recognises the significant contribution of females to football this weekend, one SMJFL girl prepares to recognise a very significant milestone of her own.
Chelsea Bezzant was due to play her 100th game of junior football last weekend.
92 of those games were played with Chelsea YCW in the Frankston and District Junior Football League, but her impact at new club Mordialloc-Braeside this year has been immediate.
The big milestone event was well planned – a pizza night with family, friends and even teachers coming to celebrate with her.
But in her previous SMJFL match, Chelsea injured herself while tackling one of her Under 15 Girls opponents.
As a result, she was ruled out of last weekend’s match. Now, with two weeks off for school holidays, Chelsea’s games tally won’t tick over to three figures until July 14.
For a girl who had previously missed only one game of football in her entire junior career, the timing wasn’t ideal.
The pizza night will have to wait, but if Chelsea’s attitude is any indication, she’ll be raring to go when the big day finally comes – her favourite part of footy is “just getting out and doing what I love every week”.
And make no mistake, Chelsea has always loved football.
Her friends often remind her that she wanted to become the first female AFL player as far back as her first year of school.
“The girls were all into dancing and stuff, and then there was me at Auskick every week getting muddy,” Chelsea recalls.
With the AFL recently announcing plans to establish a women’s AFL competition by 2020, Chelsea’s long-time goal might just be within reach.
Having refined her game over many years playing against the boys, her strength of body and mind looks set to take her far.
“She’s one to watch out for,” her coach at Mordialloc Braeside, Scott Azzopardi, says.
“She’s quite strong, knows where to get the football and has that ‘never-say-die’ attitude.
“A perfect example in her last game was when she chased a girl who kicked the ball 20 or 30 metres away, then chased the next contest, then chased the next contest and ended up winning the football.”
Chelsea is also hoping to develop her leadership skills. As a football veteran relative to many of her teammates, she has put her experience to use on match days.
“I’ve stepped up more with leadership this year,” Chelsea says. “I’ve got to speak a bit before each quarter and get into everyone’s head – just pump them up.”
And one of her usual on-field roles as a 152cm centre half back has come in handy off the field at training sessions.
“I took a training drill a couple of weeks ago and I just gave the girls pointers on what we can do to get the ball out of the back line and down to the forward line.”
While the team itself has one win and a draw from eight games in 2013, Chelsea can still see the vast improvement they’ve made over the course of the season.
Perhaps her lessons from a long junior football career on resilience and tenacity are rubbing off on those around her.