A growing sign of the popularity of women’s football in the province of Alberta was signified by the announcement of Calgary Fillies becoming the new franchise in the Canadian division of the Legends Football League. An even greater sign of encouragement was the fact that several elite competitors from the Western Women’s Canadian Football League had joined the team.
With the province of Alberta serving as one of the hotbeds for women’s tackle football, the Fillies had all the ingredients for success. Planning to compete out of the Stampede Corral, it was also going to be the host venue for the LFL Canada championship game. Of note, the WWCFL has five teams in the province. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the region of Sexsmith, Alberta has a competitive high school girls tackle football division.
While the Fillies were poised to run on that remarkable momentum, there were unforeseen obstacles. Like any expansion franchise, there are bound to be setbacks, organizational roadblocks and growing pains. Susan Stefan, a tight end who was assigned number 14 for the Fillies, nearly suffered a torn ACL. Sadly, it was a sign of ominous things to come. Regrettably, a decision to reduce the season in order to help teams better prepare caused unexpected friction.
Unfortunately, several players and volunteers decided to not suit up over a variety of other numerous issues. While the league made a valiant effort to organize a new series of tryouts, other circumstances led to a visceral decision to postpone play for a significant time.
Sadly, harsh words and criticism of the LFL were on social media along with print. With due deference to those who support tackle football, injuries are part of the cost of playing the game. The involvement of women from the WWCFL would have been mutually beneficial for both leagues.
As Canada is ten times smaller than the US in terms of population, the market for football is not as large. Players who could excel in both the LFL and WWCFL would help generate interest in both leagues. There is no question that athletic yet beautiful women such as Tanya Henderson of the Edmonton Storm, along with Kora-Lea Vidal and Jennifer McLean of the Calgary Rage would have seen their popularity grow.
Of note, other players from the Rage, notably rookie running back Lisa Gomes had volunteered to serve as a trainer for the Fillies. It was a sign that there was a serious commitment to help the game grow in Calgary. Outgoing head coach Jarrod Neufeld had spoken highly of the WWCFL veterans and their presence in early training camps. He was also of the opinion that Cheyanna Rusk had the potential to become a star for the team.
Vidal had an incredible opportunity to make Canadian women’s football history. Had the season occurred, she would have become the first athlete to have played on the Canadian national football team, the WWCFL and LFL Canada. Having also done some modeling, there is no question that Vidal would have emerged as a fan favorite.
Perhaps another star in the making, Brigette Massaoud (who was given number 13) certainly captured the imaginations of fans. Having worked as a fitness model and competitor, she would have entered the season as another well-known athlete.
While it is true that the uniform and the indoor style of play may not be for everyone, women’s tackle football must face the LFL as an ally and not an enemy. Considering that both leagues are significantly growing, co-existing is an essential part of helping maintain fan interest.
A reality of the sporting conversation in Western Canada is that junior hockey and professional hockey not only co-exist, but sometimes help promote each other. With the impact of social media, there is no question that there will be other women from tackle football that will one day expand their scope and compete in the LFL.
Although all signs point to a bright future in Alberta for women’s football, the decision to postpone the 2013 LFL Canada season to 2014 was not an easy one for the league. For now, the wound is still raw and must heal.
While Calgary football fans wait a little longer for LFL football to invade their city, the lessons learned and opportunities for an even better product will only provide better benefits long-term. Perhaps the most significant observation of the 2013 edition of the Fillies is that the potential for greatness is evident.
September 14: Regina Rage @ Calgary Fillies
September 28: Calgary Fillies @ Saskatoon Sirens
October 5: Calgary Fillies @ Regina Rage
November 9: Saskatoon Sirens @ Calgary Fillies
November 16: Venue: Stampede Corral
NOTE: This is an incomplete list
0: Kendall Fellinger
1: Tanya Henderson
3: Kora-lea Vidal
5: Hayley Quesnel
7: Tamara Sands
11: Jennifer McLean
12: Sierra Scott Steinback
13: Brigette Massaoud
14: Susan Stefan
15: Tenille Lowry
16: Lyndsay Delay
17: Cheyanna Rusk
US Free Agent Signings
Angela Rypien, Quarterback, Baltimore Charm
Theresa Petruziello, Wide Receiver/Safety, Cleveland Crush
Tamar Fennell, Running Back/Corner Back, Cleveland Crush
Head coach: Jarrod Neufeld
Trainer: Lisa Gomes
Team manager: Daniel Reaume