HEATH Chapman has been one of the big risers of this year's NAB AFL Draft crop. The West Perth defender has marked, kicked and dominated his way to being a potential top-15 pick, and at every impressive performance Chapman has had an important fan watching on.
Chapman's younger brother Jake, who is 17, suffers a genetic and neurological disorder called Angelman syndrome. Jake is nonverbal, so communicates in other ways, and has difficulties with his balance, so when he leaves the house and watches games it is from a wheelchair. Chapman, who has become one of Western Australia's leading draft prospects, knows he's there every time he runs out.
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"Mum and dad will bring him down to my games. He probably hasn't missed too much of my footy growing up. He's only 14 months younger than me so I've obviously always been around him and I love him," Chapman told AFL.com.au.
"He probably doesn't realise he's watching footy but it is a motivator for me as I don't think you take things for granted because it can easily be taken away. I go out there and play for him."
Heath and Jake are close in not only age. Chapman makes sure that every day they spend some time together once Jake has returned from his day at school, where he is finishing year 12 this year.
He will require full-time care after that, and has had health issues that have arisen from the disorder, but Chapman said his younger brother has an endearing attitude.
"It's obviously had its challenges growing up and he has had a lot of seizures, but to my parents' credit they're really positive people and they've had to look after me and my sister as well as my brother. That's had its hard times but I'm really close with him," he said.
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"I'm quite proud of him, to be honest. He's really positive and doesn't get down, he's always laughing and smiling so he's good to be around. He's really affectionate and you can sit on the couch with him and he'll wrestle with you. He gets up to a bit of trouble.
"He actually recently had his school ball which was funny, I saw some good photos from that. A lot of people and lights stimulate him and he gets really excited. Sometimes that can bring on seizures so you have to be careful but he loved it."
Jake's challenges have helped speed up some of Chapman's responsibilities at home, with the oldest of three siblings often helping to give his parents Linda and Dale some of their own time.
"With him requiring full time care, mum and dad don't really get the freedom to go out for dinner or whatever on a weekend. My little sister Anastasia, who is only 13, is really good with him and we have nights in and look after him every now and then so mum and dad can get to do things that most parents do on a more frequent basis," Chapman said.
Chapman has gotten his head around the possibility of not being able to help out as much in the near future as his draft hopes – and the chances of a move away from home – grow.
The smart and clever tall defender has shown his capacity as an intercept and rebound player this season, averaging 23 disposals and eight marks a game at colts level. At 193cm Chapman has also proven to be a penetrating kick, trying to set up the game for his side off the half-back line.
He recently made his debut for West Perth's senior side and impressed there too with five marks and plenty of confidence, having also featured in the NAB All Stars 'Futures' game on Grand Final day last year.
"I'm really happy for the consistency I've had this season," he said.
"I have that balance in being able to run off and create and rebound off half-back and then also be able to lock down on a direct opponent. Going into the year I probably didn't think of the draft too much and what could happen at the end of the season. It plays on my mind a little bit but I don't stress over things."
Even the prospect of getting drafted interstate doesn't faze the 18-year-old, even if his mum might prefer him at home.
"Having a really supportive family it doesn't worry me too much. Mum would probably not like it as much, but they’re all for it and it doesn't worry me at all," he said. "I'd take it on."