Football players make the grade in the classroom

As women’s football continues to experience unprecedented growth, one of the realities is that players from various leagues have to maintain employment in order to pursue their athletic dreams. While football attracts remarkable women from all walks of life, one of the most admirable occupations is that of a teacher.

Such a role not only cultivates patience but stimulates a willingness to learn and empathy for those that may be struggling. It is qualities that make these strong women become stronger leaders on the gridiron. From the complexity of learning plays to just supplying friendship to another teammate, the role of educators helps to forge a strong culture based on respect and dedication.

Some of the educators that are part of feminine football cover a wide range of leagues. The Western Women’s Canadian Football League features women like Connie Fekete, Allison Mouland and Ashley Sharpe. These three titanic pioneers in the nascent league represent different age groups but have seen their lives intersect on the field of play.

Although their involvement in football sees all of them occupy unique times in their lives, each one is a pioneer in the growing game. Having relocated to Alberta from Newfoundland, Mouland is the youngest of the three. Having earned a degree in kinesiology, Mouland is currently studying education. Well-read and highly studious, part of her curriculum now involves a school portion with teaching work. Employing leadership skills from football, she is dedicated towards building a strong fundamental future for her students.

Mouland scrambling against the Calgary Rage (Photo by Remy Greer, OWW)

Mouland scrambling against the Calgary Rage (Photo by Remy Greer, OWW)

Such dedication runs parallel to her role as quarterback with the Foothills Outlawz. Having undergone many growing pains as an expansion team, her leadership as the team’s pivot is providing the club with a solid building block for their promising future.

Based in Winnipeg, Sharpe is one of the members of the famed Manitoba Fearless franchise. Having competed at the university level as a wrestler, this multi-talented athlete had a desire to return to sport. With a commitment to return to a level of fitness, Sharpe found her motivation competing with the Fearless.

In donning the helmet and shoulder pads for the Fearless, it has helped to transform Sharpe’s life. Playing football has also resulted in giving back to the community. With the Fearless holding workshops and camps for young girls interested in playing the game, Sharpe has graciously volunteered her time. The result is that Sharpe’s dedication on and off field has made her a role model to her students.

Fearless players Pauline Olynik (left) and Sharpe during a photo shoot. (Photo credit: Brook Jones, Selkirk Journal, QMI Agency)

Fearless players Pauline Olynik (left) and Sharpe during a photo shoot. (Photo credit: Brook Jones, Selkirk Journal, QMI Agency)

Having made the transition from player to coach, Fekete is extending her glorious football career. Like Mouland, she is also a native of Newfoundland. An alumni of the University of Victoria, she is a former educator at the elementary school level in Calgary. Currently, she is a pottery instructor for young children from various school boards in Southern Alberta. Incorporating an element of play with education, it is a labor of love.

Employing her leadership skills along with her friendly demeanor to the X’s and O’s of the game, she is an assistant defensive backs coach with the Calgary Rage. As the next step in women’s football is to see more women occupy coaching roles, Fekete is helping to shatter new barriers while providing her daughters with a vision of how women can create positive change.

Connie Fekete image courtesy of Candice Ward

Connie Fekete image courtesy of Candice Ward

Looking towards the Eastern region of Canada, two teachers have also competed on an international scale. Members of the Canadian National Women’s Team that claimed silver at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships, Saadia Ashraf and Alex Black are two of the game’s builders in that region of the country.

Ashraf holding the IWFL World Championship Trophy in 2010. Obtained from: http://www.iwflsports.com/news/index.html?article_id=88&content_type=printable&plugin_id=news.front.system&block_id=5001

Ashraf holding the IWFL World Championship Trophy in 2010. Obtained from: http://www.iwflsports.com/news/index.html?article_id=88&content_type=printable&plugin_id=news.front.system&block_id=5001

As the starting quarterback and proprietor of the Montreal Blitz, Saadia Ashraf grew up not allowed to compete in contact sports. After high school, she would compete in touch and flag football and would start up her own team, the Montreal Warriors. In between teaching, she would dedicate herself to providing quality coaching to young girls interested in the game.

Setting a true example of leadership that her students can follow, Ashraf would eventually purchase the Montreal Blitz in order to keep women’s tackle football alive in the city. Such sacrifice and commitment on her end would culminate with a 2012 IWFL Tier 1 Championship.

Donning number 10, Black comes out during player introductions at the 2013 IFAF Women's Worlds

Donning number 10, Black comes out during player introductions at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds

Alex Black, the most decorated player in the history of the Maritime Women’s Football League had another accolade to complement her IFAF silver; she recently became a certified teacher. A former track and field star with the University of New Brunswick, she would major in Physical Education.

While one of her greatest legacies as an athlete was competing with Team Canada at both the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, the opportunity to influence a generation of young students proves there are many greater legacies to come. Entering her first full school year, Black is a rookie all over again.

Although handling a room full of young students may be tougher than leading an offense in rainy or snowy conditions, she has proven herself to be capable of handling any challenge. Having also worked as a coach for junior boys’ soccer, Black is a proven leader who should be able to develop into an elite educator.

Image obtained from: http://leahhinkle.wordpress.com/

Image obtained from: http://leahhinkle.wordpress.com/

Among the stars in the Women’s Football Alliance, Portland Shockwave superstar Leah Hinkle is one of the more accomplished players that also occupy time in the classroom. Having also played with the Corvallis Pride in seasons past, she helped the USA win gold at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds.

Currently serving as an English Language Learner Support Specialist with various public schools in her community, Hinkle would be a tremendous role model for her students. Joining several other members of Team USA, she would have the opportunity to visit Washington, DC and meet with the White House Counsel for Women and Girls. Hoping for a future with more equitable opportunities for aspiring female athletes, it was an opportunity to help plant the seeds for what one day may yield a strong and sustainable sporting foundation for women.

Berggren in action with the Force (Image obtained from: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Basketball-star-dreams-of-a-football-national-championship/43833.html)

Berggren in action with the Force (Image obtained from: http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Basketball-star-dreams-of-a-football-national-championship/43833.html)


Ashley Berggren also played with Hinkle on the US National Team at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds. It was part of a tremendous year that saw Berggren help the Chicago Force to the 2013 Women’s Football Alliance national title. Prior to her gridiron glories, she was a former professional basketball player in the ABL. In addition, she was the first female athlete at the University of Illinois to have her jersey retired.

Eventually, she would use her hardcourt skills as a basketball coach at the high school level. Having also worked as a special needs teacher, Berggren has used her strong coaching skills and maturity in the classroom to help shape lives in a positive way.

Another female football hero from the state of Illinois is former physical education Heather Furr. While she continues to carve a remarkable legacy on the gridiron, she was once a high school basketball coach like Berggren. Having led the Chicago Bliss to the 2013 LFL Championships (making Chicago the first city to have won WFA and LFL titles in the same year), she continues to show her tremendous leadership qualities.

Heather Furr

Heather Furr

Growing up with five younger siblings taught Furr a remarkable amount of patience. With a love of sport that would shape her young life, she would eventually play NCAA basketball and run track with Valparaiso University. Such a love of sport was emphasized with her students. In Furr’s philosophy, sport was used it to help manage her time and set priorities while developing social skills.

Another LFL hero is Donna Paul. Two-sport star Donna Paul is a teacher at a Montessori school in the Greater Toronto Area. A two-sport star that once played for the Ottawa Raiders of the NWHL, she also won a women’s hockey national title with the University of Toronto.

While at U of T, she earned a Bachelor of Physical Health and Education. She is using her athletic skills to help transform and shape her students lives in a positive way. Of note, her personal dedication to fitness paid remarkable dividends in the summer of 2013. With famed TV star and fitness guru Jillian Michaels visiting Toronto for Canfitpro, Paul was in attendance at the event.

Donna Paul with the Toronto Triumph

Donna Paul with the Toronto Triumph

Having competed in the Legends Football League as a quarterback with the Toronto Triumph (she was their starter in 2011), she would end her 2011 season as a nominee for an end of season award which recognizes values such as sportsmanship, dedication and perseverance. Those values are what inspired Paul to conduct an after-school program devoted to improving the fitness of her students.

Prior to becoming an educator, Paul had worked with small groups of children in the fitness industry. While the opportunity to teach at the classroom level is different, it is helping Paul make an impact at a larger level. Reputed as a good teammate and a strong leader, Paul is incorporating those teamwork values with her program.

Paul’s dedication towards introducing a healthier lifestyle which incorporates fitness helps to build character and self-esteem. Volunteering her time to this mission is a remarkable sign of character as her leadership skills and strong athletic background provides students with the drive to become healthier.

Proving that sport is more than just glory and triumph, these women are positive influences who are working towards inspiring and motivating their students. While not all of the teachers who occupy the gridiron could be mentioned, this piece is dedicated to their dedication. These remarkable women, like all competitors in female football are helping to change the cultural norm of what sports women can play, educating an entire generation.

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