How a teenager started Australia’s premier downball league


Downball Australia began as Noah’s 9 year project.

But when Melbourne’s COVID lockdowns forced schools to learn from home, his plans were scrapped – and you couldn’t exactly play downball via video call.

“I feel the pandemic has really hurt a lot of people, especially [those] who like to exercise, go out and play community sports,” says Noah.

More recently, Noah has revived Downball Australia, organizing forays for local schools and even a major tournament in his community.

“I love it. I play at recess and at lunchtime,” he says.

“It’s competitive, it’s social and fun. I love the atmosphere there…kids [go] nuts.”

What is Downball?

Downball, also known as handball or four-square, has been a staple of Australian school lunch breaks for decades.

“I started playing when I was in primary school in Sunbury [in Melbourne]”, says Andrew, Noah’s father.

“When I saw my kids start playing it again, I thought, ‘Oh, this stuff never dies.’ It’s forever and it’s passed on.”

Andrew and Noah have played together from a young age, chalking up boundary lines on their driveway.

The goal of downball is to stay in the game as long as possible.

The court of four squares is divided into king, queen, valet and dunce. The king serves by first bouncing the ball into his square, then into an opponent’s square. This continues until someone comes out and your positions change.

If you lose while in dunce, you are out of the game.


The impact of COVID

While many of us grew up playing downball at every recess and every lunch, that wasn’t the case for a generation of college students stuck in home learning.

Steven is a teacher and takes care of the sports coordination of his school.

“It was a real challenge trying to get everyone active and involved,” he says.

“[I’d really have to] determine whether or not they were able to do activities at home [by] using lots of household items. Like it’s hockey, maybe using a broomstick.”

When he heard about the school forays of Noah’s Australian Downball team, he jumped at the chance.

“It’s been very, very exciting for a lot of kids because we’ve missed a lot of sporting and school events.

“It was amazing for the kids, and you see all the smiles on their faces…it really shows how much people needed him after the few years we had.”

Melbourne primary school children loved learning downball with Noah.(ABC Everyday: Matthew Garrow)

Create a tournament

So how do you create “Australia’s first official downball league”?

To start, some standardized rules.

“We get a lot of feedback on social media saying, ‘You’re wrong, [the rules] are like that,” says Andrew.

“But what I think it shows is that this type of sport is not necessarily something that can be owned by one entity.

“It’s really owned by the masses. It’s owned by people playing in school before, people playing in school now.”

Downball Australia plays by “old school rules” and runs both unofficial social competitions and inter-school tournaments.

Teacher Steven says his students are thrilled to have the chance to compete against kids from other schools on tournament day.

“When you say championship to a kid, it just sounds huge…it’s one of those things you can really pump up,” he says.

Downball is for everyone

Downball can be played by anyone, regardless of age, gender or ability.

“I think downball is the perfect sport,” says Noah.

“It doesn’t require a lot of physical activity, but it’s also [fun] enough to keep people going and getting excited about going out.”

While he normally spends his time teaching students AFL or basketball, Steven says downball is a great way to get kids who aren’t super athletic more involved.

“It’s great to see some people who are normally happy to take a back seat…to be so excited,” he says.

“I had one [student like that] who finished fifth in her championship round and she was super pumped because it was a super exciting opportunity for her to stand out.

“It’s one of those games where every person can be included.”

ABC Everyday in your inbox

Get our newsletter for the best of ABC Everyday every week


Comments are closed.