Valkyries heroes proud to be part of “Play Like a Girl” event

As the city of Saskatoon hosts the 2017 edition of “Play Like A Girl” for aspiring female athletes aged 10-14, the presence of world class athletes is only matched by the fact that they are also world class people. In addition to the presence of speed skater Anastasia Bucsis and wrestler Jillian Gallays, four members of the Saskatoon Valkyries are also on-hand.

With the SaskTel Soccer Centre serving as the backdrop for an event destined to generate many positive experiences, and subsequently, supply a lifetime of memories, it also represents another cherished opportunity for the Valkyries to connect with the community.

Image obtained from Facebook

A significant aspect of the instruction is about more than just the fundamentals. It also involves instilling positive values and a strong work ethic. Among the Valkyries that shall be in attendance, Alyssa Funk is truly the embodiment of such values. As the 2017 season signified just her third season of WWCFL, she emerged as one of the game’s shining stars, becoming one of the youngest players named to Canada’s roster for the IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vancouver.

During her rookie season with the Valkyries, Funk was among 15 Canadians that attended the Women’s World Football Games in Tampa, Florida. The experience was a transformative one which helped set the foundation for the promising career that has bloomed, highlighted by a WWCFL championship and an IFAF silver medal. Funk’s rise to such lofty heights is not only symbolic of a willingness to learn and a commitment to continuously improving, it is also testament to the potential that all women have to make their mark in sport, one that should make a significant impression at “Play Like A Girl.”

“Football is the ultimate team sport. In football it takes everyone doing their jobs and playing as a unit to be successful but that’s not the case in every sport. Lots of sports can make good teams from one or two dominant players but in football it truly takes a full effort from every player to be successful and win games.

For young players, football will teach sportsmanship, determination and integrity, which will ultimately carry over into other aspects of their lives as well. For myself as an offensive lineman, football has truly taught me that every position is just as important as the next, even though only some positions get recognition.”

Among the Valkyries participating in this event, one is an alumni of the team, who has returned to her sporting roots. Having graced the gridiron during the Valkyries nascent years, Katie Miyazaki is more than a two-time WWCFL champion. A prominent basketball player at the university level with the Saskatchewan Huskies, garnering Canadian Interuniversity Sport Defensive Player of the Year honours in the aftermath of the 2010-11 season, complemented by a spot on the CIS All-Canadian Team in 2011-12, concussion woes resulted in Miyazaki to hang up her helmet.

In spite of such a promising gridiron career cut short in its prime, Miyazaki remains a relevant sporting history. The transition to coaching was a seamless one, resulting in the prestigious opportunity to part of a fascinating sporting movement. Serving as a coach for wheelchair basketball, she was part of the national women’s team staff that participated at the 2016 Paralympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. As a side note, Canada finished in fifth place, sporting a 4-2 mark.

Miyazaki during her glory years with the Valkyries (Photo credit: Andrew Spearin, The Star Phoenix)

While Miyazaki’s presence at the “Play Like A Girl” event shall focus on instructing wheelchair basketball, the Valkyries shall always hold a treasured place in her heart. To see that three members of the club are on-hand as female football instructors, it only serves to rekindle fond memories of her time there, while gaining a newfound appreciation for their efforts as tremendous sporting ambassadors,

“I love that the Valkyries do so much in the community and that they’re seen in such a positive manner. I think one of the most important parts about being an athlete or part of an organization is being a positive role model because there are lots of kids and people that look up to you. Even just the interaction with you can mean a lot.”

Of note, Miyazaki is not the only member of the Valkyries family with a connection to wheelchair basketball. A charter member of the club, Jaime Lammerding, who shall also be one of the football instructors at “Play Like A Girl”, has been a prominent competitor in wheelchair basketball. One of three women (along with Ashley Baerg and Gab Roberts-Winter) that were part of Team Saskatchewan’s roster in Wheelchair Basketball (Mixed) at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, they would defeat Manitoba by two points in the bronze medal game.

WWCFL legend Lammerding competing in Wheelchair Basketball at the 2011 Canada Winter Games (Image obtained from:

As the sport allows both able-bodied and disabled individuals to participate, it is a unique element that results in a profound mutual respect between both individuals, while providing an opportunity for the disabled to be integrated into society in an encouraging manger. For the able-bodied Lammerding, the sport has supplied many tremendous moments, and to see a sport that means so much to her at this event is truly heart-warming,

“Wheelchair basketball has been part of my life for a long time so I love whenever the sport, as well as the athletes and coaches, gets to be showcased. Since both able-bodied athletes and athletes with disabilities can play and compete together (at least in Canada), wheelchair basketball is one of the most, if not the most, inclusive sports available, and events like these help people to realize that among other things. There is so much to be gained from playing the sport, not only at an athletic level, but a personal one as well.”

Having also represented Canada for the second time in her career at the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia, Lammerding is proud to share her world-class knowledge of the game with a group of eager youngsters. As the football mad province of Saskatchewan has proven to be a leader in helping challenge social convention, fostering a culture of encouragement and friendship as women stake their claim on the gridiron, wondrous women like Lammerding, who also gives her time as the WWCFL registrar, are the reason that female football is a game worth supporting.

“Being able to share my experiences in football and other sports because there are lots of girls who don’t know about all of the opportunities that are available for them in sport.

Many sports are still pigeonholed as “for girls” or “for boys” and it’s good to be able to show young female athletes that their gender doesn’t limit them in what sports they can play.”

Joining Lammerding as football instructors includes a pair of Valkyries teammates who were also part of the Canadian contingent in Vancouver. Emerging with a silver medal, the podium finish represented a proud milestone for all involved with the effort, definitely generating cultural currency in the Saskatoon sporting conversation.

Wearing number 62 for Canada, Funk has the IFAF silver medal adorning her neck (Photo credit: Kendal Matheson)

Funk, who competed with Lammerding on the offensive line with both Canada and the Valkyries, along with kicker Carly Dyck (who holds the record for the longest field goal in the history of the Lethbridge Steel), both made their debuts for Canada. Dyck certainly made an impression for the host country, emerging as the leading scorer in Canada’s opening game of the tournament, defeating Jen Welter’s Australian team.

While these wondrous and accomplished women are definitely role models, helping raise awareness about the achievements of Saskatchewan’s female athletes, Funk remains humble about such status, testament to her team-first approach, an approach that defines the Valkyries culture. As a significant part of Funk’s athletic endeavors also involves coaching hockey, which should ensure her presence at “Play Like A Girl” to be a seamless transition.

“I do not necessarily see myself as a role model, but at the same time I am aware that there are people watching the things I do on and off the field so I’m always working to present a positive image of myself and hopefully that can help to inspire these young girls to try playing football in the future.

I have been a coach for a peewee girls hockey team for two seasons now, and through that I try to teach them not only skills they need on the ice, but off the ice as well to help them be positive ambassadors of the sport and the towns and families they are representing. I try to conduct myself in a way that will have a positive impact on people, especially younger girls in such a male oriented sport.”

In the gold medal game of the IFAF Women’s Worlds, Dyck certainly made her own positive impact. Scoring the game’s opening points, marking the first time in IFAF history that the opposition US trailed in a gold medal game, it was a unique brush with history that enhances the Valkyries impact on the game’s biggest stage. Having first made her mark on the soccer pitch, Dyck, like Lammerding and Miyazaki, is a prime example of how women have the potential to excel in multiple sports while continuing to aspire to make their athletic dreams come true.

Dyck kicking off at the 2017 IFAF Women’s Worlds (Credit: Diz Ruptive Photography)

“Growing up, I did not know any women who played football, but I had strong female role models who encouraged me to play many other sports. I am proud to be an advocate for women in sport, and honored to volunteer for this event and to be considered as a role model.

I hope that young girls will be inspired, and realize their own potential for greatness. Even if the girls at this event don’t play football when they grow up, I hope they will be motivated to stay active and healthy. Most importantly, I hope to see the next generation grow into confident, strong, and independent women. If they will look back on this event with fond memories, then I have done my job.”

For Miyazaki, the chance to have reached the pinnacle of coaching at the Paralympic Games represented such an exciting dream. While Valkyries football shall always serve as one of the proud highlights in her athletic legacy, helping to contribute to such a transformative and encouraging era, the chance to share in “Play Like A Girl” with her Valkyries sisters, is a point of pride, embodying the spirit of encouragement and support that are among the core values of female football,

“Having the opportunity to give back and attempt to inspire the next generation of athletes is one of the best parts of what I’ve accomplished. I really hope that I can help athletes realize that their dreams don’t have to stay dreams, with hard work they can get there.

I ended up making my dream of representing my country on the biggest stage a reality, although in a slightly different way than originally planned. I want kids to know they can dream big and that making changes to their dream along the way is okay too.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Acknowledgements: Michelle Duchene

Advocating for football prospects one story at a time.

Leave a Reply