Positive experience at Women’s World Football Games for Steel’s Litchfield

As the female football game continues to grow in prominence, an event that symbolizes its growing relevance on a global scale is the Women’s World Football Games. Part of the proud representation included a group of empowering competitors from the WWCFL, among them Melissa Litchfield, a versatile competitor whose proficiencies on defense have made her a leader for the Lethbridge Steel.

Through the efforts of Sam Rapoport (a former quarterback for the Montreal Blitz) and USA Football, the event has not only welcomed players from the world over, but has helped provide a feeling of importance and acceptance for all the women who grace the gridiron. For the 2016 edition of the games, that feeling was stronger than ever. It was an element that made an impression on Litchfield as the Games were hosted at the training facilities of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, providing a gratifying feeling of achievement.

“Being in the Saints facility was absolutely incredible. As a female football player, I never thought the opportunity to play on NFL turf was plausible.

I am so grateful to the Saints organization for showing us they believe in women’s football. The facility is almost overwhelming. We are used to making the most of school gyms, or unlined fields for practice. Seeing all position groups work out in one space was incredible!”

Although Litchfield was the only member of the Steel to attend the Games, opportunities existed to get to know players from the other teams in the WWCFL. Sharing accommodation with several of them only added to the feeling of the proud Canadian content on hand at the Games. Considering that so many of these players have only known each other as rivals on the gridiron, the chance to get acquainted on a much more profound level and connect as people only adds to the growing sense of mutual respect.

Of note, members of the Saskatoon Valkyries, several whom Litchfield played against in the 2014 WWCFL championship game were among her roommates. Among them was running back Kelsey Murphy, adding a unique sense of coincidence. An action photo taken by Liam Murphy during the 2014 championship game which saw Litchfield attempting to tackle Murphy was picked up by various news chains, propelling both of them into the spotlight.

Another participant in the 2014 championship game also held a strong connection to Litchfield. Although she calls the Valkyries her club team now, Carly Dyck was a teammate of Litchfield on the 2014 edition of the Steel. Also a highly skilled soccer player, it was Dyck that would introduce Litchfield to football. The chance to be part of such a historic happening at the Games by gracing the field at the Saints facilities only added to their proud gridiron association.

“Half of the WWCFL league was represented at the WWFG! That can only equate to our league becoming stronger! I had the opportunity to live with six fellow Canadians (and three other countries). It was awesome getting to know more about these incredible athletes, than just the number on their shirt. On top of that, a few of us got the opportunity to come together and play on the same team!”

With players from 17 different countries competing at the Games, the love of the gridiron may have been a common thread, but the essence was one defined by a sense of working together in carving a legacy that only serves to enhance the growing and well-deserving impact of women in sport. In addition to visits from some of the Saints competitors themselves, the presence of another individual with NFL ties added relevance. Dr. Jen Welter, whose work as a linebackers coach during the 2015 Arizona Cardinals preseason symbolizes the potential of women in football.
After five days of training and preparation, Litchfield and the fellow players had the chance to experience their own gridiron glories. With players assigned to teams, the final day of the Games featured a tournament, allowing said players the venue to utilize their newly acquired skills. For Litchfield, game d ay represented everything that these exceptionally talented and ambitious women were working towards, serving as the favorite moment in her participation at the Games.
“My favorite moment of the WWFG was game day. Seeing over 220 athletes come together from all over the world and fit together like a puzzle was unreal. The teams were formed only 24 hours prior but it felt like we had been practicing together for months/years. The coaching staff did such a great job; it did not feel like we had only 5 days with them!”

The Games and their spirit of ambassadorship, paving an encouraging trail for others to follow with increased confidence and reach their personal best is a theme very familiar in Litchfield’s athletic endeavors. When not on the gridiron, Litchfield is proud to serve as an ambassador for Fast and Female, a non-profit society from Canmore, Alberta which is focused on encouraging girls ages 8-18 to participate in sport. Founded by Chandra Crawford, a gold medalist in cross-country skiing at the 2006 Winter Games, Litchfield’s efforts on the gridiron embody the society’s mission to empower, inspire and motivate.

Having returned from an unforgettable experience in New Orleans, one that is destined to be one of the most enjoyable in her playing career, Litchfield brings an enhanced confidence to the Lethbridge Steel. Not only is head coach Kessie Stefanyk, the first female head coach in WWCFL history, returning for her second season, but the Steel bring strong playoff ambitions.

As Lethbridge is the host city for the 2016 WWCFL championship, hopes are high for Litchfield and the rest of the roster for a postseason run. With the experience and maturity that Litchfield brings to the squad, she understands that the experience at the Games will definitely help give her team a better chance to win.

“The week in New Orleans has definitely given me the tools to be a better player and teammate for the Steel this year. My hope is that the coaching I received last week will help our team make it back to the championship this year. We are hosting the big game this year, so the WWFG could not have been any more timely!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Image supplied by Melissa Litchfield

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