Montreal’s unsung hero

Quarterback great Ashraf continues to make impact and enjoy successful gridiron carrer

As women’s football has enjoyed over a decade of competitive play in Canada, many of its builders and heroes can be found throughout. In the city of Montreal, Saadia Ashraf is leading a great charge in sporting equality, while establishing the city as more than just a hokey hotbed, but a premier market for football.

While casual fans recognize Ashraf as the team’s starting quarterback for several seasons, she enters the 2015 campaign entering a new phase in her career. Serving as one of the offensive coaches, it is one of many hats that she wears with the organization. Among them, she is also the team’s President. Despite such prestige and responsibility, Ashraf remains humble about her role with the team, acknowledging the work required off the field,

“Being president sounds glamorous but it means I have to hire a head coach, delegate duties such as fundraising, hiring trainers, reserving field time, making travel plans, etc.”

Although Ashraf has established herself as a prominent figure for female sport in Montreal, she would gain experience in league play south of the border. Despite growing up playing touch and flag football, the chance to challenge cultural norms by donning the helmet and shoulder pads first came in New York State,

“Quite a few years ago, eight girls from Montreal drove down to play with the Rochester Galaxy. They were part of the WPFL and they did not last long due to financial duties.

In Rochester, there were three of us who wanted to play quarterback, and the team gave us all a chance. I would become one of two quarterbacks on the team that were from Montreal. The team folded before the season ended.”

The arrival of the IWFL would signal the beginning of better days ahead for women’s football in Montreal. Although Ashraf was not the founder of the Blitz, she was one of its charter members, helping to establish the foundation for the championship years to come,

“One of the Montreal girls that I used to travel with, she serves as an officer and she started the Blitz. It was great for us as we did not have to travel (to play our home games). I took over the team in 2004. By 2008, we consistently became one of the top teams.”

In 2008, the Blitz would enjoy a first place finish with a sparkling 7-1 mark. Between 2008 and 2012, the Blitz emerged victorious in a remarkable 36 games, while losing only four contests. Of note, the Blitz would capture a pair of IWFL Tier II championships, defeating the Clarksville Fox in 2008 and the Bay Area Bandits in 2010.

Three consecutive undefeated seasons (2010-12) culminated with a remarkable milestone in Ashraf’s career. For Ashraf, the chance to claim the IWFL’s Tier I world championship in 2012 represented the pinnacle of her career with the Blitz. Reflecting on the victory against the Sacramento Sirens, the finish is considered one of the most exciting in league history,

“To have that title and play for it was great. We would win it in such a close way that was unheard of. The final score was 28-27 and we had blocked a point-after attempt. It was a whole feeling of relief and elation and the same time. The feeling that we did it!

We will not stop trying to win championships and that title was a sense of accomplishment beyond words.”

An added benefit for Ashraf was the opportunity to compete in the inaugural IFAF World Women’s Football Championships in 2010. Three years later, Ashraf would be part of the Canadian contingent competing in the second edition of the Worlds. Of note, there were two extra elements that enriched the experience. As the quarterback of Team Quebec, Ashraf led the squad to a gold medal at the 2012 Canadian National Championships. Such an effort yielded another impressive result, as Ashraf was joined by over ten Blitz players on Team Canada 2013.

Despite a second silver medal in 2013, the chance to be part of the Canadian roster on two separate occasions is certainly one of the hallmarks in Ashraf’s remarkable career.

“It is very special to say that you represented your country in the sport you love. To do that was a great feeling. There was a sense of pride to be able to represent Canada like that. Personally, there was a great sense of accomplishment.”

Throughout all the milestones and accomplishments, there are still many challenges and obstacles to overcome. While Ashraf works tirelessly to bring the Blitz and female football into the sporting conversation, the biggest challenge may be overcoming preconceived notions of women and tackle football,

“It can be difficult to convince people. When it comes to entertainment, we are really family entertainment. You have to come out and watch. Once you come out, you will come back. We play a hard hitting, fast game, the way tackle football should be played.

TV wise, we would hope that because of the 2010 & 2013 world championships, it would be another platform for exposure. You turn on the TV and see the Ultimate Frisbee Championships. You just think, why we can’t we have that?

Pound for pound, we still do the same things as the men; the catching and the tackling abilities are evident. It can be hard to convince people because it is a physical game played by men for years and years.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Manon Minger

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