As one of the greatest women’s basketball players in Big Ten history, it would come as no surprise to see Ashley Breggren achieving new heights with the Chicago Force of the Women’s Football Alliance. Having only started competing on the gridiron at age 33, it is testament to her physical and mental abilities to adapt and excel. Hardcore sports fans in Illinois remember Berggren as a star with the University of Illinois Fighting Illini basketball program.
Having re-written the record books at Barrington High School, her illustrious records still stand. With Illinois, she helped the squad to its first-ever Big Ten Conference Title, while earning three straight All-Big Ten honors (1996 to 1998). Her 2,061 career points after fifteen years is still good enough for second all-time. She was also the first women’s basketball player to have her jersey retired by Illinois.
Named Big Ten Player of the Year and First-Team All-American in 1997, she also grew up with a love of football. Growing up in the era when the NFL’s Chicago Bears were led by Jim McMahon, Walter Payton and Mike Singletary. “Da Bears” captivated her imagination and cultivated her love for the sport. Force owner and general manager Linda Bache, who calls her Berggie, acknowledged her talent in a piece for the website Windy City Media Group, believing that she would be a special player for the franchise when she first saw her try out for the team.
Before she would join the ranks of professional women’s football, Berggren was the second round pick of the Chicago Condors in the 1999 ABL Draft. She was one of five players on the roster that had connections to Chicago and was even immortalized on a trading card.
Statistically, Berggren is a dependable receiver who can excel at the national and international game. At the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, Berggren would log one touchdown in a contest versus Sweden, while ranking sixth on the US in receiving yards. In the gold medal game versus Canada, she would compile three receptions for 34 yards.
Having helped the United States national team capture the gold medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships, she would accomplish the sweep by helping the Force win their first-ever WFA national championship.
Riding the rocket arm of sensational Sami Grisafe, the Force had the number one offense during the WFA regular season in 2013, averaging 61.9 points per game. Berggren would finish as the third ranked receiver on the Force with 31 receptions, complemented by 669 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, which led all receivers.
In the national championship versus the Dallas Diamonds (of which several Dallas players were her teammates with Team USA), Berggren would catch a 20-yard touchdown pass from Sami Grisafe to give the Force a 26-0 advantage at halftime.
While this was a historic accomplishment in Berggren’s sporting career, she also had the opportunity to compete in the 2012 WFA National Championship game. Contested at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, it was the first women’s football game ever held in an NFL stadium.
Her exploits on the gridiron as one of the top offensive weapons for the Chicago Force have extended her remarkable athletic career, she has also managed to incorporate coaching as well. Of note, she was a 2013 inductee into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Having served as the bench boss for the Schaumburg girls basketball coach for four seasons (leading them to back-to-back winning seasons), she did not return for the 2013-14 season as her teaching position was no longer avaialble due to the declining number of special education students.
For the players of Schaumburg, this is a tremendous loss. Having contributed to basketball youth camps for the last 15 years, it was testament to her commitment to positively influence young people through the positive power of sport.
The next chapter of her athletic career is the expansion of her youth sports company, Dream Out Loud Sports, LLC. Part of her initiative also includes an after-school program for boys and girls aged 4 to 17 where outdoor and environmental learning helps to foster a sense of preserving our ecological legacy. Currently an assistant coach at North Central College in Napierville, Illinois, her expertise and acumen are highly valued.
Berggren is a dedicated individual whose athletic and cultural legacy is truly based on educating. Having lived in a same-sex relationship, her publicly mentioning it is influential not just for women, but men too, who are looking for the courage to discuss their orientation. From showing basketball fans that women had a place in the game, to proving that women had every right to play tackle football, to inspiring the next generation of athletes, Berggren is a tremendous role model and equally deserving of being considered one of Chicago’s true sporting heroes, just like her childhood hero, Walter Payton.