There comes a time when a sporting prodigy must choose between the sports they love. In this town it’s usually cricket, football and basketball vying for the hearts of our young sporting elite. Very seldom does anything have the wheels to drive them away from the football field, but in the case of Collingwood youngster Ben Kennedy, the four wheels of a skateboard almost did.
Up until the age of 16, every spare moment Kennedy had was spent on a skateboard. In the words of US rapper Lupe Fiasco, Kennedy was “engaged to the aerials and varials”; it was “kick, push, kick, push, kick push and coast”.
But when his dad started hiding his skateboard, Kennedy knew the risk associated with skating the bowl at West Beach or clearing a flight of stairs, and elite junior football would never mix. His board wasn’t strong enough to carry the two.
— Jack Viney (@jackviney7) January 7, 2013
It was a tough decision. Such was his street skating talents Kennedy had a sponsorship with a local skateboarding store – Daily Grind Skate Co. Ironic given escaping the daily grind is what Kennedy loved the most about skateboarding.
To quote Lupe Fiasco once more, “Just the freedom was better than breathing they said”.
“The hardest thing was that skating for me was a release from football and it was something I used to do to get my mind off the pressures of football,” Kennedy said.
“Football was always my number one sport and skating was a release, but it was something that I was good at and I liked doing.”
The sacrifice paid off. Kennedy represented South Australia in the Under 18 National Championships in 2011 and 2012: he was named All-Australian in both of those years, he was a member of the AIS AFL-Academy and ultimately drafted by Collingwood with Pick 19 in the 2012 National Draft.
Nowadays any time Kennedy spends on a skateboard is nothing more than a “roll around”. But driving to the Etihad Stadium for his first game against St Kilda in Round 6, he was wishing his board was in the boot.
“So I’m sorry young man, there’s no skating here” – Lupe Fiasco
Confronted by Friday night traffic of biblical proportions, Kennedy made the decision to ditch his car and a mate from Adelaide, and run the final 2km to the ground.
“I misinterpreted traffic completely, thinking it was just another normal day. I didn’t take peak hour traffic into account at all so when I got to Collins street I moved about 20 metres in 20 minutes, my instincts were to jump out of the car and run to the game,” he said.
Reflecting on the moment you could almost hear the panic return to his body.
“I thought that Bucks might have seen it as; if I’m not to going rock up to the game on time I didn’t want it that badly, therefore I would be withdrawn and someone would come in and play for me .
“When things like that happen, the worst case scenario runs through your head. But once I got to the ground Bucks said it was ok. A few blokes are running late anyway because of the traffic, just relax it’s still going to happen, you are still playing.
“It took me until the start of the game to relax and get over the anxiety I was feeling.”
From that point he hasn’t looked back. The baby-faced lefty has added plenty of bounce to the Collingwood midfield. Ironically his composure in traffic is something that has stood out in his six games at AFL level. The most prolific being the Queen’s Birthday clash against the Demons, when he had 17 disposals and kicked three goals.
Beyond the Melbourne traffic, the speed of the game is what Kennedy has found the most challenging aspect of life as an AFL footballer. But under the guidance of development coach Craig McRrae, he is learning a few short cuts.
“The way the ball moves is almost like basketball but on a bigger scale. When the ball gets turned over it is up the other end before you know it. You have to work back and work forward. It is a real transition game.”
Scott Pendlebury has made the biggest impression on the pint-sized Kennedy.
“His professionalism on and off the field is something I strive towards and he’s certainly been one to invite me into his world and give me a lot of advice.”
Kennedy’s world has undergone significant change in the past six months. He describes it as like a “roller coaster”, but despite living in a new city, where he has become an active member of Melbourne’s coffee culture, he is still the surfy kid from Glenelg.
“I feel like you don’t change in the person you are and your values. But you certainly mature, I think that by living out of home and living away from my family I feel more confident in myself and able to look after myself and make decisions for myself.”
Another hit song by Lupe Fiasco is titled Superstar; this skater boy has got all the tricks to be just that.