Remarkable business women and civic leaders make up roster of Minnesota Valkyrie

In a year that has seen the Minnesota Valkyrie rebuild, a remarkable group of women have helped provide leadership and inspiration on and off the field. While they are six members of the budding franchise that are over the age of 30 on the squad, their maturity, perspective and empathy makes them ideal teammates.

Image obtained from:
Image obtained from:

These strong women include the likes of Lisa Bastien, Kelli Gillispie, Kathryn Johnson, Cristina Kelly, Laurie Jo Miller and Katrina Stewart. Considering the loss of superstars such as Whitney Meierotto and Cydney Froehlich, every one of these dedicated athletes provided a leadership role. Their presence helped make them big sisters for a squad which featured promising rookies such as Erin Tjornhom and Kari Janes.

Many of these wondrous women have also helped to set a positive example by donating their valuable time to charitable causes such as Feed my starving children and Walking for Warriors. Players such as Kelly and Stewart who have been with the Valkyrie from the beginning have even travelled to the Legends Cup in Las Vegas to meet with loyal fans. In addition, Kelly, who is a mainstay on the offensive line, maintains a fan page on social media which helps open a window into the world of Valkyrie football.

Involved with Wakling for Warriors (Image obtained from:
Involved with Wakling for Warriors (Image obtained from:

Statistically, these women made positive contributions to a squad that played valiantly despite a last-place finish. Stewart ranked second on the squad in rushing while Miller and Bastien ranked fourth and fifth, respectively. Ironically, Miller also ranked fourth in tackles with Stewart ahead of her in third place. Basiten would also prove to be a double threat on offense, finishing as the team’s receiving leader.

Volunteering with Feed My Starving Children (Image obtained from:
Volunteering with Feed My Starving Children (Image obtained from:

Despite measuring in at 5’1″, Bastien is a spitfire with a mammoth heart and a gigantic determination to give her team a chance at win. Having also played and volunteered with the Minnesota Machine of the Women’s Football Alliance, her love of the game is one that stretches year round. When not on the gridiron, she is a distributor at Advocare and a real estate agent.

Bastien in action with the Minnesota Machine (Image obtained from:
Bastien in action with the Minnesota Machine (Image obtained from:

Kelli Gillispie is more than an athlete; she is a business woman and a pillar in her community of Mound, Minnesota. While some fans call her the sexiest politician in America, she is more than just a sex symbol. She is a woman of substance and a remarkable example of empowerment.

Quite possibly the renaissance woman of the Valkyrie, Gillispie dons many remarkable hats. In addition to being the owner of Tonka Auto and Marine, she also loans her business acumen to the Valkyrie as their marketing manager. Gillispie has also displayed remarkable ingenuity and commitment to her team by selling regular season tickets at her place of business. Despite such commitments, Gillispie also proudly gives back to her community. From serving on the Mound City Council, she is also the vice president of Westonka Community and Commerce and has loaned her time to the HeartBeat 5000.

Gillispie with Mound City Council (Image obtained from:
Gillispie with Mound City Council (Image obtained from:

With a background as a gymnast, soccer player and track competitor in high school, her lifelong of sport was extended by joining the purple and gold. Having competed in the inaugural season of the Valkyrie, Gillispie caught a touchdown pass in their 2011 season opener against rival Green Bay.

Like Gillispie, Miller also hails from Mound. While she may have been the oldest player on the squad, her love of the game and team spirit are like a fountain of youth. As one of the most effective two-way players on the team, she was encouraged by Gillispie to give the team a try. With a volleyball background, Miller grew up in California and had a strong impact with the team, as she played in all three games. Currently a hairstylist in Mound, her fun-loving nature helped to establish her as a fan favorite.

Unlike many social norms about age and beauty, these competitors for the purple and yellow definitely prove that women over the age of 30 possess a vitality and attractiveness about them. Despite the heartbreak of a season of struggle, there are cases when teams can bond over losing and emerge stronger for it. Having forged many lifelong friendships and improved the lives of others through charitable work, these mature yet magnificent women made it a season to remember.


Nikki Johnson’s dismissal from her previous league not the way to treat one of its icons

As one of the first superstars in the history of the LFL, one of the women who helped bring a major league feel to the inaugural season of LFL Canada, Nikki Johnson deserved better. The heartbeat of the Las Vegas Sin franchise, her offensive prowess made these determined beauties of the desert one of the hottest sporting tickets in Vegas.

After enduring and suffering through various nagging pains and wrist surgery, Johnson got tangled in a new fight. Rather than running for daylight against a bruising defense, she wanted a sense of fairness and dignity for a group of courageous and determined athletic women that graced the LFL’s gridirons.

Quarterbacks Johnson (left) and Joey Davenport during the introduction of the Las Vegas Sin. Image obtained from:
Quarterbacks Johnson (left) and Joey Davenport during the introduction of the Las Vegas Sin. Image obtained from:

Just like the struggles that Terrible Ted Lindsay endured in the 1950’s when he tried to start a players union in the National Hockey League, Johnson would find herself in the proverbial dog house. While the NHLPA would be a reality in 1967, Lindsay was labeled as an agitator and was shipped to the last place Chicago Black Hawks. Johnson was the recipient of a coarse and offensive message advising her that she was no longer welcome in LFL play.

Considering the way she put her body on the line throughout the seasons in order to gain a few extra yards for a first down or get a touchdown at the expense of her own safety, Johnson deserved better. While it is true that female rugby is a punishing and unforgiving sport, there is a support staff in place which ensures that players are taken care of, incorporating a sense of dignified sportsmanship, rather than being told expletives.

When Peyton Manning suffered his neck injury with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, could one have imagined if Robert Irsay would have showered him with foul language and abruptly dismissed him from the team? Although Manning would eventually move on to another team, every aspect of that situation was handled with complete class. Sadly, this did not happen for a highly deserving individual such as Johnson.

At this point, the LFL’s loss is truly the WFA’s gain. Having once competed with the Las Vegas Showgirlz of the Women’s Football Alliance, Johnson also earned All-America honors. While there is no compensation with the Showgirlz, there is an element of fairness and a humane culture which is worthy of someone like Johnson. A valiant athlete with a strong sense of determination and perseverance, Johnson is a true competitor that makes any team better.

It would appear that ever since the LFL Canada season was derailed, the league has tragically descended into a sort of downward spiral. While the league shelved its 2012 season in the US, the reality is that it mass defections from players may lead to such a situation again. Concerns over quality and preparation were points of tension with the failed Canadian campaign.

Doing things right is essential towards sustainable growth. With a star like Nikki Johnson no longer with Vegas, how can the franchise improve on their .333 winning percentage? Concerns over quality could quickly have a toxic effect on the league, which would be a sort of karmic payback. While Johnson has become a martyr over wanting to do the right thing, she will have her day in the sun and it may be one that outshines any she had with her former team.

LFL Players Association must be part of next step towards league’s global ambitions

With due deference to top leadership, a Players’ Association for the LFL is more than right, it is the moral thing to do. While the league has every right to run its operations as it sees fit, there is something to be said for compromise. Issues such as morale and player safety must be taken into account. As global expansion is in progress, the image of the league expands too.

In reality, the LFL truly has the potential to become a global sports entertainment empire in the same vein as WWE or UFC. The women of the LFL could easily become the most famous female athletes in the world. From a business point of view, the players are in effect like raw material, which helps to create a finished, packaged product that fans will want. If that material is not handled properly though, it becomes waste.

At this point, the reality is that if the LFL wants to grow into a worldwide sporting venture, there must be a confidence that comes along with it from potential players and fans. With the advent of social media, bad publicity is truly worse than no publicity at all.

The cost of doing things right will always outweigh the cost of having to pay for legal action and the potentially bad publicity that emanates from it. Considering that quarterbacks handle the lion’s share of the offensive attack, how devastating would it be if stars like Nikki Johnson, Heather Furr or Angela Rypien would be paralyzed from a hit? What were to happen if there was a fatality on the field? The negative press would not only destroy the league but legal costs and possible incarceration would decimate what is a remarkable sporting product.

While it is understandable that a players association may be seen by seen as undermining any league’s authority, the reality is that the competition for the fans sporting dollar is intense. As such, player loyalty must be taken into consideration.

All one need do is reflect on the Springfield Indians hockey team and Eddie Shore. Years of mistreatment on the players not only resulted in a revolt but the involvement of lawyer (and future hockey czar) Alan Eagleson. The result was that Shore had to relinquish his authority on the team, eventually leasing the rights to the team to the Los Angeles Kings. Could one imagine if the players were to do something similar by communicating with an association such as the Women’s Sports Foundation for example? The media would definitely show sympathy for the players.

Everyone has worked so hard to make the LFL a successful enterprise that no one wants to see it crumble. Considering it is on the cusp of emerging into a cultural phenomenon, it is time to build bridges rather than burn them. With the Hall of Fame being a remarkable first step in recognizing the players’ efforts, the players deserve to see this as a springboard towards better things. It is not about telling the league what to do; it is about ensuring that all parties are protected. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Calgary Fillies grit and determination helps motivate Tenille Lowry

In the aftermath of the 2013 LFL Canada season being cancelled, a dark cloud hovered over the Calgary Fillies franchise. As disputes over safety concerns were played out in print and social media, it seemed like the team would implode. After several players and trainers left the franchise in frustration, the path towards resuscitation was one that seemed fraught with challenges and obstacles.

Rather than linger over the past, a determination to strive forward would serve as a defining moment for the remarkable women who chose to stay with the Fillies. Joined by new coaches and players to replace those that moved on, an attitude of ambition and determination was injected into the new-look squad.
Part of the first wave of players that remained with the squad was Tenille Lowry. As a mother, this athletic endeavor not only forced her out of her comfort zone but helped to provide her with confidence. Despite league officials having pushed the reset button on the season, forcing the Fillies to wait until 2014 to make their highly anticipated debut, Lowry discussed her motivation to continue,

“What has kept me motivated to keep playing is really two things. I have been able to step out of my box by doing some things I never would have done before as I am kind of a simple girl. So doing the photo shoots and working really hard to keep myself in shape, as I would be in the public eye, has been really great for my confidence as I am a 36 year-old mom of a two year-old girl and a four year-old boy.

The other (motivating factor) is that my husband is my biggest fan. Also, I have never played football but am very into sports. I grew very quickly to love the game as well as how physical it is and I just love it. Yes, I am looking very forward to the upcoming season as we will be very prepared and in great shape and I believe we will have a great team.”

While the cancelled 2013 season can only offer what might have been, there is a tremendous feeling of optimism going forward. The ability to remain unified as a team and maintain their focus to keep working towards making their gridiron dreams come true is symbolic of the strength and tenacity these wondrous women possess.

Lowry acknowledged that the first wave of players that still call themselves Fillies have had an impact on her.

“I also wanted to add that the original girls that stayed with the team also had a lot to do with why I stayed playing. We were all great support for each other. They are a great group of girls as well as great motivators when it comes to practicing hard and keeping ourselves in shape.”

Practicing outdoors in the unforgiving climate of an Alberta autumn, it is testament to their dedication, while cultivating the toughness and character that will be needed to excel on the gridiron. Although the anticipation of the inaugural season brings with it the unknown of how they shall fare in the standings, in the hearts and minds of devoted fans and friends, this is already a group of champions.

Dynamic rookie duo of Shuree Hyatt and Mele Rich contribute to Seattle’s greatest season

Having both made their debut at the 2012 Pacific Cup, it was a remarkable sign of things to come for the dynamic rookie duo of Mele Rich and Shuree Hyatt. As the Pacific Cup represented the first interleague match in LFL history, their debuts were part of a landmark moment in both Seattle Mist history and for their careers.

It would come as no surprise to fans to know that both Hyatt and Rich are two-sport stars. Hyatt has experience as a professional soccer player. Having logged time as a midfielder with the Seattle Sounders, she was also a Division I star with the University of San Francisco. USF head coach Pamela Kalinoski regarded Haytt as the most athletic player on her team. Hailing from Lakewood, Washington, Rich has a basketball background which led her to a collegiate career at Evergreen.

Hyatt would contribute two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the 38-18 win over the BC Angels. She would carry that momentum into the regular season as the Mist finished with their first-ever undefeated season. Along with Rich, the two would be finalists for the LFL 2013 Rookie of the Year Award. Hyatt would emerge as the recipient of the award but their remarkable rookie seasons were truly part of an astounding team effort.

Both of these rookie sensations brought a versatile game to the Mist. Each would shape their game in the same mold as Seattle Mist superstar Jessica Hopkins. Like Hopkins, they would emerge as triple threats in rushing, receiving and defense.,

Rich would average 7.8 yards per carry while scoring five touchdowns. She would account for 59% of the Mist rushing attack, a very impressive mark as a rookie. Her 283 combined yards from scrimmage led all Mist players while ranked second in receiving on the Mist. Defensively, Rich would log 10.5 total tackles and one interception.

Ranking second on the Mist with three interceptions, Hyatt showed tremendous instinct on defense. Her 14 total tackles were testament to her athleticism. This was complemented by a solid receiving season where she grabbed nine receptions for 123 yards and three receiving touchdowns, ranking second behind Lashaun Fowler.

If one game signified that they were truly star quality, it would come in a 24-20 win over the three-time defending LFL champion Los Angeles Temptation. The May 4 contest was on the road, making the task even more challenging. Facing a 14-6 deficit as halftime approached, Rich ran in for a touchdown, sinking the morale of the Temptation.

In the third quarter, Hyatt would intercept a pass from Temptation quarterback Ashley Salerno. Returning it for a touchdown, Seattle would enjoy their first lead of the game by an 18-12 margin. The game would end in a 24-20 final for the biggest win in Mist history.

A few weeks later, a convincing July 20 whitewash of the Las Vegas Sin provided the Mist with its first undefeated regular season. Rich would contribute touchdowns on both sides of the ball in a 52-14 triumph. Of note, she would intercept superstar Sin quarterback Nikki Johnson and return it for a touchdown. Offensively, she scored twice, including the score that would have Seattle eclipse the 50-point barrier. Along with Hyatt, the two combined for 93 combined yards from scrimmage.

Having both been key contributors to the finest season in Mist history, the next step is the elusive Legends Cup. Although Rich shall soon be tackling the upcoming role of motherhood, she has the potential to play a key role in the Mist hoping to maintain a powerhouse for years to come. Considering how many mothers compete in both indoor and outdoor pro football (Hopkins is one), Rich is too great a talent to not see on the gridiron in the future. Both Rich and Hyatt have proven to be significant building blocks for the future of the Mist franchise and are poised for long and glorious careers.

Melissa Margulies provides a stoic, character performance for Temptation

A three-time LFL champion, her greatest performance may have come in 2013. Although the season did not end with a championship, Margulies proved herself as one of the toughest and most admirable competitors in all of female football. Measuring in at only 5’3”, her 2013 season was nothing short of gigantic.

Photo by: Dave Samarzich
Photo by: Dave Samarzich

It may come as a surprise to fans to know that Margulies once worked for the AVP (pro volleyball) and the NFL Network. Hailing from Mammoth Lakes, California, she was also her team’s Most Valuable Player in soccer. In addition, she is also a personal trainer and has successfully completed training as an airlines attendant. One of the true renaissance women of the LFL, her diverse background and university education makes her a force to be reckoned with.

With the Los Angeles Temptation entering the 2013 season with the free agent acquisition of Liz Gorman, the proud franchise was confident it would march towards an unprecedented fourth consecutive title. An opening-day victory over superstar quarterback Heather Furr and the Chicago Bliss certainly was testament to those beliefs.

Injuries to mainstays such as Chloe Butler and then Gorman derailed the team’s ambitious efforts. Suddenly, a sense of urgency befell upon the franchise as the pressure of winning another title only mounted. Determined to pick up the slack was Margulies. Despite suffering a torn ACL and MCL in her knee, she placed the Temptation’s rushing attack on her shoulders.

Leading all players on the squad with 179 rushing yards (including an impressive 5.1 yards per carry), she accounted for 52% of the Temptation rushing attack. The next closest rusher was elite quarterback Ashley Salerno with 97 yards. Having had to grace the gridiron with a completely rebuilt knee, it was quite possibly the most courageous offensive performance in LFL history. Her 194 combined yards from scrimmage accounted for 35% of LA’s offense.

Her shining moment of the season may have come on June 29, 2013. With Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California hosting the 100th game in league history, it would come to be known as the Centennial Game. A convincing 42-26 win over the Las Vegas Sin began with a touchdown run by Margulies.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, her strong running game helped the Temptation march down the field while maintaining valuable clock possession. Such efforts resulted in Salerno finding Danielle Harvey for a passing touchdown and the 21-12 lead. Helping to draw the Vegas safeties on play-action with her rushing efforts, it allowed Salerno to complete crucial passes. Finishing the game with an impressive 76 rushing yards, Margulies was a key factor in the Temptation winning the landmark game while grabbing a postseason berth.

For hardcore LFL fans, many would have liked to have seen her season end with the Mortaza Award. Of note, it went to teammate Monique Gaxiola. Ironically, both have proud roots in the athletics program with the University of Southern California. While Gaxiola was a soccer star, Margulies competed in the 2007 Pac-10 Conference Championships in the 800-meter dash, while earning a spot on the 2007 Pac-10 All-Academic team.

While the highlight of her career came in a 2011 LFL postseason game against Chicago where she returned a kickoff for a touchdown, helping the Temptation erase a deficit, the 2013 season overall may have been just as remarkable.

For those who know Margulies, they would not be surprised by her character and determination. Although the 2013 season ended with a visceral postseason 19-12 loss on August 17 to rival Chicago, no one can deny the courage of Margulies. Providing a solid performance on offense with a rebuilt knee, she truly has the heart of a champion.

Female football heroes have proud roots in the military

In recognition of Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States, many of the amazing women who have served in the military also have proud ties to the gridiron. While all have unique stories and varied backgrounds, their ability to become part of a new generation of women shaping strong legacies in the military would follow them into the growing world of female football.

Currently serving as a spokesperson for the Women’s Indoor Football League, Cara Vargas is also a member of the Washington Wildcats. Having also competed as a boxer, Vargas is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Having spent six years of active duty while another two were in the reserves, she is a hero in every sense of the word.

An experience at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri would make an impression on Vargas. Having taken action by pummeling a man that was looking to take advantage of a lady in the barracks, Vargas would show the type of leadership and bravery that makes for a character individual. While there were discussions of disciplinary action, a superior officer stood up for her noble action. It would set a precedent for other males at the Fort to treat the female members of the military with respect.

Having donned the Canadian jersey at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland, Annie Arpin has military roots dating back to before she would become one of the armored warriors for the IWFL’s Montreal Blitz. While Arpin is one of the pioneers helping to build a legacy of women’s football in the hockey-mad city of Montreal (where she has won IWFL Tier 1 and Tier 2 championships), she was part of the Maisonneuve Regiment reserves unit from 1993 to 2000. Of note, she would also see military duty in 1996, travelling to Bosnia as an infantryman.

Arpin in action with the Montreal Blitz (Image obtained from:
Arpin in action with the Montreal Blitz (Image obtained from:

In addition, Arpin was not the only member of the Canadian contingent to have military ties. Cheryl O’Leary, a player-coach with the Capital Area Lady Gladiators of the Maritime Women’s Football League served as a mentor coach on Team Canada. Of note, her husband and son are both members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

On the topic of builders, a pair of women looking to establish women’s football in the American heartland of Iowa also saw their share of duty overseas. The defunct Des Moines Courage were not only the first women’s football franchise in the state, but their founder (and occasional player) Tammy Campos would serve in Iraq. Although she was stationed west of Baghdad, she would call her teammates every Saturday night to see how the team fared in their weekend contests.

In the aftermath of the Courage, former player Jennifer Hirakawa would help form the Iowa Crush. Having grown up in Ewa Beach, Hawaii and attended the Academy of the Pacific (where she played volleyball, softball and basketball), it is ironic that she would one day lay the foundation for women’s football in Iowa.

Having first enlisted in the Army in 1990, she would retire with the rank of Master Sergeant in 2012 from the Iowa Army National Guard. While she was a competitive softball player who competed on various military teams, she would first play female football in Berlin, Germany for the Berlin Adler Girls. While she would become the first competitor in Women’s Football Alliance history to post 20 sacks in an 8 game season, she would be deployed to the Middle East in 2009.

Master Sergeant Hirakawa would serve as one of the first superstars in Iowa women's football
Master Sergeant Hirakawa would serve as one of the first superstars in Iowa women’s football

The WFA would have another proud member of the military shape its proud history. Kristin Love served as the division officer for the Patient Administration Department at the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton. When not serving as a lieutenant with the Marine Corps, Love could be seen on the gridiron competing as a defensive back with the San Diego Surge.

Upon discovering that her camp did not have a women’s flag football team, Love would not only find a spot on the Surge roster, but she would play in the squad’s inaugural game. Donning number 19 with the Surge, she would be part of another historic chapter with the franchise. In 2012, the Surge won the WFA National Championship. Contested at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, it was the first women’s football game ever contested at an NFL stadium.

A systems engineer with the Missile Defense Agency, Shawn Bailey would have her own connection to football in California. Having studied at the University of Southern California, she would be part of the school’s fan culture for its football team.

While she would play softball, soccer and women’s lacrosse, the opportunity to play football would present itself at a peculiar time. As the mother of a pre-teen son playing flag football, a suggestion was made to have an exhibition game between the boys and their moms. After the adrenaline of competing in said game, Bailey found an ad on social media for the Pikes Peak Storm of the Foxy Football League.

Although Bailey was 38 at the time, she would not only make the team, but she would part of their transition from the Foxy Football League to the IWFL. Rechristened as the Colorado Sting, Bailey would travel to Round Rock, Texas to compete in the Tier 3 IWFL Championship Game in July 2012. Ironically, Arpin of the Montreal Blitz was also in Round Rock as her squad captured the Tier 1 title. As a side note, one of Bailey’s coaches, Oscar Loveless also has ties to the military; serving as a Tech. Sergeant in the 50th Civil Engineering Squadron NCO.

Stationed out of Virginia, Erin Alyssa Stewart would make the 90-minute journey to Baltimore, Maryland in order to compete for the Legends Football League. Originally, she had plans to try out for the Chicago Bliss franchise but her transfer to Virginia altered her plans. Having played with the Baltimore Charm in 2011 (of note, Vargas would try out for the team in 2012), she was offered a roster spot after the first day that she tried out with the team.

Erin Alyssa Stewart practicing with the Baltimore Charm
Erin Alyssa Stewart practicing with the Baltimore Charm

Having graduated from Chicago Military Academy Bronzeville, she would earn a Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration. With her father having served in the Army, she would proudly follow in his footsteps. Becoming a member of the military in 2008, she also has a brother in the Marines and a sister in the US Army reserves.

The unique mosaic of women’s football weaves a remarkable tapestry filled with diversity, perseverance and a true sense of teamwork. Those are the same values that help to shape the core of today’s brave soldiers, women and men in today’s military. While not all female football players with military service could be recognized, their contributions to preserving our way of life and protecting our borders helps to ensure that the future of women’s football is one that will continue to shine brightly.