Sports

GRIDIRON GIRLS

The balls are smaller, the field narrower, but the hits are hard in Canada’s first all-women’s football league

JOHN INTINI August 15 2005
Sports

GRIDIRON GIRLS

The balls are smaller, the field narrower, but the hits are hard in Canada’s first all-women’s football league

JOHN INTINI August 15 2005

GRIDIRON GIRLS

Sports

The balls are smaller, the field narrower, but the hits are hard in Canada’s first all-women’s football league

JOHN INTINI

ABBY MILLER is surely the only ballet dancer-turned-linebacker in Canadian sports history. “My legs are pretty strong and I’m a lot more flexible thanks to the seven years of dance,” says the 16-year-old, who traded in her pointe shoes for a pair of football spikes a couple of years ago. “The added strength lets me make fast cuts, which helps when I’m chasing down a running back.” At five-foot-six and 140 lb., Miller doesn’t look too intimidating. But in the New Brunswick Women’s Football League—Canada’s first all-female gridiron—she’s a defensive dynamo. Miller and her Saint John Buccaneers teammates have been

bashing helmets with the Fredericton Lady Gladiators and the Moncton Vipers all summer in pursuit of the league’s ultimate prize: this weekend’s SupHer Bowl.

If you’re thinking soft tackles and timid play, think again. Many of the women learned the game by holding their own against boys in high school, and they’re not afraid to get a bit nasty. “It’s a lot tougher than rugby,” says Moncton’s Mandy Hamilton, 23, a hospital nurse and one of the league’s most dangerous running backs. “In gear, players are less cautious. Trust me, the hits are hard.”

Of course, it’s not exactly like men’s football. The all-girl game is played with a smaller ball, on a narrower field and with eight players, not 12. Players range from age 16 to 50—there’s even a mother-daughter combo, Dawn Courtney and Alex MacDonald, who play defence for the Vipers. And while it’s primarily a running game, quarterbacks are improving thanks to a rule requiring signal callers to throw at least one pass during every set of four downs. Blitzing by the defence, however, is forbidden. “They don’t want the quarterbacks to get too scared,” says Miller.

Except for the occasional ankle or wrist sprain, serious injuries are rare. Bruising is the main concern. “Husbands worry that people might start wondering if something is going on at home,” laughs Terry McIntyre, who founded the league last year.

So far, the games attract only a couple of hundred spectators at best, but the appeal goes beyond mere curiosity. Though Canada has only three competitive teams outside the Maritimes—the Calgary Rockies, Edmonton Storm and the Montreal Blitz—

in the U.S. the sport has exploded in popularity. This year, 36 teams competed in the National Womens’ Football Association, which regularly attracts thousands of fans.

Organizers of the NBWFL hope for a fraction of that success—and there are some positive signs. Next year, teams from Halifax and Charlottetown plan to join—which will surely spark new rivalries and improve competition. Not to mention, increase the trash talk. “I’ve heard some four-letter words and questioning of a players’ heritage out there,” says McIntyre, who is refereeing this year. “It’s only natural when somebody lays a whacking on you that you might not react in the most lady-like way.”