If you happen by a football game in Edmonton on May 12[SUP]th [/SUP]or Saskatoon or Winnipeg the following day, you’ll see a product on the field that’s familiar. You may be surprised, though, when the helmets come off. That’s the weekend the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) kicks off its second season.
The women’s tackle football game has roots with the Calgary Rockies team from a decade ago, but it was only last year when seven teams came together to form a league. Tannis Wilson, a long-time football fan and player, is commissioner of the growing league and practiced with the Rockies years ago. She was part of a group that spearheaded the development of the WWCFL.
“I was tired of everybody sitting there and talking about how much they wanted to play football, but no one did anything about it. We just stepped forward,” said Wilson. “We were all looking for somewhere to play and needed to band together to form a league.”
Wilson had help from Football Manitoba and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, as well as local media to spread the word about the league and it snowballed from there.
The league has seven teams this season, with the Lethbridge Steel and Calgary Rage chasing last season’s Western Conference champion Edmonton Storm in Alberta.
In the Prairie Conference, the Regina Riot, Manitoba Fearless, and Winnipeg Nomads Wolfpack are all trying to unseat last year’s WWCFL champion Saskatoon Valkyries.
The 2012 season should be the final one with only seven teams. An extra Alberta team and one in British Columbia will likely be added for the 2013 campaign.
Jeff Yausie, head coach of the Valkyries (and a coach of the CJFL national champion Saskatoon Hilltops), emphasizes fundamentals and proper tackling technique for women new to the sport. Many of the WWCFL players have experience in other sports and the ability to transfer those skills over into football shows.
“If you’ve got good hands from volleyball or basketball, obviously there’s spots on the football field where you want someone with good hands,” said Yausie. “There’s also a spot for the wrestlers, there’s a spot for the track and field athletes, and the basketball players can play a multitude of positions.”
No athletic past is required for entry into the league. Good overall health and a passion for the game are all that’s needed. As the league grows, Wilson envisions the age of the athletes dropping, in part due to the recruitment of college athletes, but for now the average player age across the league hovers around 30 or so, but ranges from 18 to about 50.
Most coaches agree women actually tend to pick up some of the strategic points of the game a little quicker than their male counterparts. They use insight over instinct in some situations.
“Women are different than men,” Yausie explained. “They ask a lot of questions. I’m used to coaching young guys that just say ‘yes sir, no sir’, but the women ask a lot of really good questions. As a coach, it makes you step back and think, ‘why am I telling them to do this?’”
The WWCFL had a strong opening season and is looking to be even more competitive this year. Roster numbers are up for almost every team in the league and they’re all gunning for the championship.
In Saskatchewan, teams benefit from having more provincial funding, but all the teams are finding ways to step up to the bar set by the Valkyries.
The WWCFL is really about giving women a chance to learn football. Yausie said, “Young girls need female role models in sport. For lots of women, there’s not a lot of sporting opportunities after high school.”
He sees a future where there will be high school and minor football programs for girls to play against girls, as there are now in place for hockey.
WWCFL players range from CIS-level athletes to CFL fans, to moms who watch their sons play and want to feel what it’s like.
“The whole premise of women’s football is inclusion,” says Wilson. “We want to try and ensure that we’re not closing any doors to any of the girls that want to try out. We want to create opportunities for girls to play football and that’s what the WWCFL, with expansion going forward, is all about: The growth of women’s football.”