Western Conference crown point of pride for Calgary Rage veterans

Among the feel-good stories in this remarkable run to the Western Conference crown for the Calgary Rage is the chance for the veterans to savor in this long-awaited moment. Complemented by an undefeated season, the first in team history, there is no question that the jubilation of winning, that tremendous sense of achievement brings with it a heightened feeling of splendor.

Hong celebrates after a touchdown against Grande Prairie (Image by Candice Ward)

Longtime players such as Esther Hong, Alyssa Quinney and Erin Walton, among others, comprise a significant leadership core for the Rage. With their skills having shone with Team Alberta as well, their motivations to succeed on the gridiron, remaining unified in the ultimate goal of victory represents a hallmark of what it means to be part of such a team.

Having recently enjoyed the milestone of her fifth season with the Rage, such an anniversary could not have provided a better outcome for running back Esther Hong. Having always believed in the team’s potential for greatness, the years of sweat and sacrifice culminated in a gratifying moment that encompassed why this game was so important to her.

“This has been a five-year journey for me. From day one, I always saw the potential for this team. I knew one day it was going to happen; it was just a matter of time and for it to finally come (and) it was the best feeling in the world!

As I held that trophy, so many emotions ran through my mind and I had wished that all the former players that went through the grind with me were there to share that moment with me. I held it up high for all of them!!!”

A teammate of Hong with Team Alberta at the 2016 Canadian women’s nationals, Quinney’s efforts extend beyond more than just becoming a prominent player. She has truly grown into a leader and a cornerstone for the team. Having equally devoted five years, the build-up of several seasons towards this moment is not only testament to her strong work ethic, but it represented a gratifying time for such a worthy gladiator.

“It’s cliché but it simply means to me that hard work pays off. The fact that many of us have stuck together through some really rough patches makes winning the conference taste that much sweeter. It will be something we always have and be able to look back on and be like “we did that”.

Erin Walton, Calgary Rage

In her eighth season with the Calgary Rage (the team had existed prior to the formation of the WWCFL), Erin Walton represents its heartbeat. With two appearances on Canada’s national women’s team to her credit, along with a spot on the reserves for the 2017 IFAF Women’s Worlds, her acumen and leadership have empowered an entire generation to grace the gridiron.

Having been part of the Rage’s inception since opening kickoff in its inaugural WWCFL season, Walton has seen the team emerge from the nadir of losing, rising to the revered peak of conference champion. For all the dedicated players on the Rage roster, no player deserved this prestige more than Walton,

“In my career with the Calgary Rage, this is the first time we’ve captured a conference title! To finally, after 8 years, get to say we are Western Conference Champions fills me with a sense of accomplishment and pride that is hard to put into words. Our team worked incredibly hard this season.

From day one we focused on a different physical, mental and preparatory approach to the 2017 season. Our coaching staff set that tone early in our season’s prep and once we started to gel, learn and compete together as a team, I think everyone could see and feel that this could be a special year for us.”

As Walton reflects, her career has been defined by several hallmarks. Among them are the privilege of representing both province and nation, standing shoulder to shoulder among some of the game’s giants. Undoubtedly, the opportunity to be part of this historic team in Rage history only adds an element of pride, adding luster to a truly stellar career. Although Walton shares the sense of euphoria that has been shared by all on the team, shaping the culture into one of jubilation, she remains focused on the bigger prize, an opportunity to become the first team from Alberta to win a WWCFL title.

“I have been blessed to have had many amazing experiences with football. I’ve represented Alberta and Canada as a player, but the one personal goal I had not reached was winning our conference and reaching the WWCFL Championship game. It feels so good to say we have accomplished that! But it’s not done yet! With one more game yet to play, our team is looking forward to the challenge and opportunity ahead of us!”

Sharing in Walton’s sentiments is an optimistic Hong. Approaching the championship game with confidence, she believes that the Rage have the ability to keep up with the Prairie Conference champion Regina Riot and make more history,

“I am looking forward to playing amazing football this weekend and making Rage history, to be the first team in the West to bring that trophy home!”

Such a victory is one that has not been lost on the alumnae of the Rage. Having held the rare distinction of serving as both a player and coach in franchise history, Connie Fekete’s enthusiasm for the game was unparalleled. Also prevalent at Calgary Stampeders games, where her red wig transformed her into a cult hero, while also participating in many charitable events, her imprint on Calgary football is undisputed.

Considering that the Rage shall always represent an integral aspect of Fekete’s football odyssey, she remains highly interested in the achievements of the team. As she was part of the team’s foundation in the earlier part of the decade, many of these current players having grown under her tutelage, there is a remarkable sense of pride in seeing this team evolve into such a powerhouse.

“As one of the Rage Alumni I am beyond proud of what these women and the coaches have done this season! As a mom, it reminds me of watching my kids as they pass milestones in life. I can’t wait to see how much more the Rage will accomplish.”

Kait DiNunzio (Image by Candice Ward Photography)

Of note, there is another Rage alumnae who shares the sense of pride in this emotional victory. Having also once served as WWCFL President, Kait DiNunzio was a key figure in the nascent years of the league’s development, truly one of its builders. Juggling such a leadership role, along with gracing the gridiron and becoming a prominent business woman, DiNunzio truly embodied the empowering potential of women in the WWCFL to truly make their mark on the sporting landscape.

Football remains very close to DiNunzio’s heart. Currently wed to Walton, the two are teammates in all facets of life. With their young daughter Ruth volunteering her time for the team, football is truly a family affair for this amazing group. Having shared in the gridiron journey with Walton (both also played for Team Alberta at the 2012 Nationals), she remains devoted to the game. For Walton, the chance to capture the conference crown with wife and daughter on-hand only made such a monumental milestone more memorable,

“My wife Kait is my #1 fan and the most amazing support for me! It helps that she has also played football so she gets how intense and consuming this time of year is for a football player. She is incredibly proud of our team and is very excited to keep tabs on us this weekend while she is away!

Our daughter Ruth is a water girl for the team so she will be with me this weekend participating in what is sure to be a great and memorable weekend of football in Saskatoon!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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