Expanding sport of women’s football makes it mark on Capitol Hill

During the week of October 20, 2013, some of America’s feminine football heroes made their mark in Washington. Although the entire 2013 IFAF gold medal winning squad from Team USA was not present, they were still proudly represented by some of the most talented women the sport has to offer.

The reason for their visit to the nation’s capital was the opportunity to begin an inspiring movement with the the White House Counsel for Women and Girls. Part of a terrific movement to bring equality in opportunities for women, it is an inspiring cause that should help create a more equal and level playing field for future generations of female athletes.

Organized by Adrienne Smith of the Boston Militia, she was part of Team USA’s gold medal wins in both 2010 and 2013. She had been working on organizing such a trip since the USA arrived from the first IFAF Women’s Worlds in 2010.

Team USA members make their way to Washington (Image obtained from Facebook)

Team USA members make their way to Washington (Image obtained from Facebook)

Created in 2009 through the signing of an Executive Order by United States President Barack Obama, the White House Council on Women and Girls provides a federal resource to address challenges faced by women and girls. It also helps to ensure that Cabinet-level agencies regard how their policies impact women in American society.

Having had the opportunity to meet with Tina Tchen and Avra Siegel of the White House Council on Women and Girls, there is no question that women’s football is becoming one of the fastest growing sports in North America. Complemented by the existence of two women’s leagues in Canada, the US features the Women’s Football Alliance (the league provided most of the roster for Team USA), along with the Independent Women’s Football League (whose Montreal franchise helped contribute to Canada’s roster).

With Title IX having celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2012, its impact was also a topic of discussion. Concerns from the players came from the fact that many policies in school districts and states that prevent girls from participating in contact sports. As it was noted, the public or cultural perception of girls who play is undesirable to many young women. This must lead to a shift in the way strong and powerful women are viewed in society.

Adrienne Smith at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/adriennethe10)

Adrienne Smith at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/adriennethe10)

In addition, the impact of ten year-old girl Sam Gordon, who emerged as a phenomenon playing with boys in Utah, is a catalyst in furthering the move to strengthen the impact of women’s football sooner rather than later. Having captured the imagination of sports fans, Gordon also became the first female football player to appear on the famed Wheaties box.

Among the proud football heroes in attendance included Callie Brownson, Donna Wilkinson, Rebecca Worsham, Leah Hinkle and Kimberly Klesse, to name a few. Wilkinson is a 39 year-old defensive lineman whose club team is based in the nation’s capital, the DC Divas. The tallest player on Team USA, offensive lineman Worsham is one of Wilkinson’s teammates on DC along with Brownson. Playing at the defensive back position, she was the youngest member of the US contingent.

A ten-year veteran of women’s football, Hinkle is a school teacher from the Pacific Northwest, having competed with the Portland Shockwave for the last four seasons. Competing for the Columbus Comets, Klesse is a wide receiver born in 1986.

Portland Shockwave player Leah Hinkle with the IFAF World Championship Trophy in Vantaa, Finland (Obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/LeahHinkle)

Portland Shockwave player Leah Hinkle with the IFAF World Championship Trophy in Vantaa, Finland (Obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/LeahHinkle)

Representing the Midwest was Jennifer Plummer, a linebacker with the West Michigan Mayhem. Fellow linebacker Kristine Elmore from the Tri State Warriors was also in attendance along with Apsen Marshall, a defensive lineman whose club team is the Central Cal War Angels. The Dallas Diamonds, who competed in the 2013 WFA National Title Game had proud representation from members of its defensive unit. Dr. Jen Welter, a linebacker for the squad was joined by defensive lineman Kenoris Blackman.

While there is no question that the women of the gridiron are tremendous role models and inspiration for women to follow their dreams, a key point of discussion was the fact that many girls do not continue physical activity after their school years. Another point that was emphasized featured the importance of remaining health and active into adulthood as the football field has a place for every size, shape and build.

Compared to other role models in the media, consideration was made to the fact that instead of seeing competition and drama as the norm, women should learn to work together and take care of each other. With consideration that a girl can look at a football team and find someone who closely resembles herself, it fosters a sense of friendship and belonging.

These remarkable football heroes also offered their support towards the First Lady’s “Let’s Move Campaign”. This remarkable group of women would like to see a future where a partnership can be built where the gold medal winning members of Team USA can serve as ambassadors for women in sport.

The most impressive fact about these remarkable women is that they represent various age groups and come from diverse backgrounds, helping to reinforce the feeling of camaraderie that defines the sport. Having shattered barriers by gracing the gridiron, this initial meeting was part of a movement that will require more discussion and effort in order to keep moving forward. While the change needed to address and change the cultural norm on women in sport is one that is an uphill climb, the journey towards the peak is one that should bear remarkable results.

Each is a role model in their own unique way, helping to pave the way for the next generation of women who aspire to grace the gridiron. Their visit to Washington addresses the fact that the game is ready to grow, like women’s basketball a generation ago with the birth of the WNBA and the ABL.

Special thanks to Leah Hinkle

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