13 inspiring women of football during a groundbreaking 2013
While female football starts to gain momentum, 2013 may be seen as the memorable year that served as the catalyst towards the acceptance of the sport. From the outset, the 2013 IFAF Women’s World championships showed how the game is making remarkable inroads in the rest of the world. Strong performances from Finland and Germany at the event have displayed that the global footing the sport has made is only going to expand.
History was a key theme for the game’s growth in Canada. Currently, its development sparks many comparisons to the rebirth of women’s hockey in the late 1980s. During 2013, the Maritime Women’s Football League celebrated its tenth anniversary season.
As the only Canadian-based franchise in the IWFL, the Montreal Blitz captured its third Tier II title. Western Canada would not be outdone as the Saskatoon Valkyries became the first to win three straight WWCFL championships, establishing itself as the the first Canadian female football dynasty this century.
In the United States, the accomplishments of athletes such as Sami Grisafe and Whitney Zelee helped bring female football into the sporting conversation. Zelee’s 2000-yard season earned mention in Sports Illusrated. While Grisafe leaves the gridiron to follow her singing aspirations, her album was part of the 2013 Grammy Award pre-nominations.
Presented in alphabetical order are 13 women of football throughout the world that helped to define the great season that was 2013.
Gabriele Duvinage, Germany
Along with Lisa Klaverkamp of Team Canada, Gabriele Duvinage of the German team were the oldest competitors at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Football Worlds at 46 years old. Calling the Crailsheim Hurricanes her club team, her performance as quarterback for Team Germany was inspiring.
Having also competed at the 2010 IFAF Worlds, she seems to get better with age as she compiled 225 pass yards in 2013, complemented by an 88.52 efficiency rating and two passing touchdowns. Also pulling double duty as Germany’s punter, she registered 12 punts for 295 yards. Despite losing in the bronze medal game versus Finland, she threw for 141 yards including a 62-yard pass play. In the game, her punt of 36 yards was also her longest during the 2013 Worlds.
Susanne Erdmann, Germany
Having also played for Germany in 2010, her experience was essential as Germany qualified for the bronze medal game. One of the offensive stalwarts on her club team, the Berlin Kobra Ladies, she was the catalyst for Germany’s rushing game at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Football Worlds.
The rushing attack for Germany featured Erdmann’s 288 rusing yards (including a 33-yard run), 7.6 yards per carry, and four rushing touchdowns (which led all German players). Of note, she accounted for 47% of Germany’s total offense and her 301 all-purpose yards constituted 36%.
Her finest performance came against Sweden when she accumulated 217 yards. In the bronze medal game, she rushed for 71 yards against the host country Finland. For her efforts, she was the only German player named to the Tournament All-Star team.
Sami Grisafe, Chicago Force
The greatest female football quarterback of the last decade, Grisafe ended her storied career in remarkable fashion. Named as the starting quarterback for the American contingent that competed at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships in Vantaa, Finland, she claimed her second consecutive gold medal.
After compiling an undefeated mark with the US, she was named to the IFAF Tournament All-Star team. Of note, her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner prior to the gold medal game was one of the most captivating renditions of the song in sports history.
Returning to Women’s Football Alliance play after her gold medal effort in Finland, she continued her remarkable season with the Chicago Force. Compiling an undefeated regular season mark, Grisafe and the Force returned to the WFA national title game for the second straight year.
Competing at Balboa Stadium in San Diego, Grisafe’s final game would be one to remember as she won her first-ever WFA title. Recognized with her Force teammates at Wrigley Field prior to a Chicago Cubs baseball game, Grisafe got to sing the national anthem in front of the Cubs faithful. Should the day ever come that the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio recognizes the efforts of female football, there is no question that Grisafe deserves to be considered.
Nikki Johnson, Las Vegas Sin
One of the most famous female football competitors from the state of Nevada, Johnson has competed in outdoor football with the Las Vegas Showgirlz and indoors with the Las Vegas Sin. With her superstar status, Johnson wanted to do the right thing and ensure that working conditions at the indoor game were fair.
Pushing for things such as health insurance and a safe environment, Johnson was looking to improve the playing field for not just her teammates but players throughout the league. Despite her best efforts, she was released from the league. Like Curt Flood in baseball and Spencer Haywood in basketball, she stood up for what she believed in and was made a martyr for it. Planning a return to the outdoor game, it is their gain as her grace and talent may help inspire a new generation of women to try the game.
Cheryl O’Leary, Capital Area Lady Gladiators
During 2013, Cheryl O’Leary has experienced great jubilation at the administrative, coaching and playing levels. Serving as a mentor coach for Team Canada at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, she is part of a group of wondrous women looking to prove women can also coach as well as play.
As a player, O’Leary helped the underdog Capital Area Lady Gladiators capture the Judy Upward Trophy during the Maritime Women’s Football League’s landmark Tenth Anniversary season. At the MWFL’s Annual Meeting, held after season’s end, O’Leary was elected as league president, testament to her leadership skills.
Julie Paetsch, Saskatoon Valkyries
Three remarkable events in 2013 not only cemented the legacy of Julie Paetsch as one of the greatest players in Canadian female football, but confirmed she is a legendary female athlete in Western Canadian athletic lore. Despite battling most of the 2013 WWCFL season with injury, she returned in time for Saskatoon’s appearance in the league title game.
Helping Saskatoon become the first WWCFL team to win three consecutive league championships, she was also recognized as the game’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Named to the Canadian team that claimed silver at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, it marked her second time suiting up for Canada (she also grabbed the silver during the 2010 Women’s Worlds).
Despite a visceral loss to the rival United States in the gold medal game, Paetsch was Canada’s leading tackler in the contest. Recognized as Canada’s Player of the Game, she established herself as an athlete whose performance exemplifies leadership.
In August 2013, Paetsch would become the first female football player selected in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Draft. A former scoring champion in Canada West women’s hockey, she was drafted by the Calgary Inferno. Having scored a goal in her inaugural game with the Inferno, she may be the player that helps Calgary qualify for their first-ever Clarkson Cup playoff appearance.
Tiina Salo, Finland
As the starting quarterback for Finland, she played valiantly for the host country during the 2013 IFAF Women’s Football Worlds. At 32 years of age, she was one of only four players from her club team, the Crocodiles, named to the national team.
Quite possibly the most valuable player for Finland during these games, she was an offensive juggernaut. She would emerge as Finland’s leading rusher with 278 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, three rushing scores, while averaging 92.7 yards per game.
Salo’s superlative performance was part of a balanced offensive attack in which she also contributed 303 passing yards and four touchdown passes for a sparkling 99.3 efficiency rating. Combining her rushing and passing yardage, she accumulated an astounding 581 yards of total offense.
Contests against Germany and Spain resulted in strong individual performances. Versus Germany, she logged 22 rushing attempts and 138 rushing yards vs Germany. In a victory against Spain, 18 pass attempts and 116 passing yards were complemented by a 49-yard pass play.
Stevi Schnoor, Seattle Mist
A former member of the Canadian national rugby team, it was only a question of time before Stevi Schnoor would bring her remarkable athletic abilities to the gridiron. Competing in 2012 with the British Columbia Angels, she would lead the club to a league championship while she was named postseason MVP.
She would follow it up with another memorable performance in 2013. While the Angels did not have the opportunity to compete in 2013, Schnoor and two of her teammates (Mary-Anne Hanson and Deanna Schaper-Kotter) suited up for the Seattle Mist.
Competing with the Mist in the second annual Pacific Cup match, Schnoor logged three touchdowns in a hard-earned 27-25 victory over the Los Angeles Temptation. Not only did Schnoor become the first player to score three touchdowns in a Pacific Cup game, she would earn the moniker “Stevi Wonder” from the Mist fans. Recognized as the game’s MVP, she would make history by becoming the first Canadian-born player to earn the nod.
Adrienne Smith, Boston Militia
On a Boston Militia team that features the likes of quarterback Allison Cahill and record-breaking running back Whitney Zelee, it may be easy to overlook the solid and consistent contributions of wide receiver Adrienne Smith. Having finished her 2013 season as the Militia’s leading receiver, she helped her club to the Conference championship game.
In addition, she helped the USA capture their second consecutive gold medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds. While her gridiron glories on the field are impressive, her accomplishments off it are equally so. She would display strong leadership by helping organize a group of Team USA members that visited Washington, DC to discuss opportunities for women in sport and female football.
Tea Tormanen, Finland
At 30 years of age, Tea Tormanen is one of Europe’s finest female football players. In an effort to improve her game, she even played in the United States for the DC Divas in 2010 and 2011. Her storied career began with the Lappeenranta Rajaritarit and the Helsinki Demons. Currently, her club team is Finland’s Northern Lights.
During the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, her 11 solo tackles tied with Anette Backman for the team lead. In addition, her 18.5 total tackles topped all Finnish players. She also logged 1.5 tackles for loss, along with 0.5 sacks. In the July 4 loss to Canada, she had a team-best 9 tackles.
Having started all three games for the Finns, she was one of only four Finnish players named to the Tournament All-Star team. A mainstay for the national team, her experience and leadership were crucial in obtaining the bronze medal in 2013.
Dr. Jen Welter, Dallas Diamonds
Having earned her second gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 Women’s Worlds, it was part of a year to remember for the wondrous Jen Welter. Not only would she compete in the WFA National Title game with the Dallas Diamonds, she would also earn her PhD.
While she has earned the right to be called Doctor, Welter can also be called empowering. In addition to ensuring that female football players can be positive role models for young women, she is also devoted to shattering the negative stereotypes that many young women tragically associate with body image. By working to reinforce how the feeling of friendship and family that comprises female football is part of acceptance for any aspiring player, regardless of shape, size or age, it is an admirable display of leadership on her part. Of note, she will also be one of the celebrity mentors for the upcoming reality show, Independent Women.
As part of her experience with Team USA, she would also compose a remarkable series of blogs, sharing her feelings and observations about the prestige of competing for the US and the thrill of competing on the world’s biggest stage.
A few weeks after the IFAF Women’s Worlds, she would also have the opportunity to visit Washington, DC with several other Team USA members. The lifetime of memories acquired from the meaningful trip would be part of another superlative blog as Welter works towards bringing fans even closer to the thrill of the action. Such initiative not only makes Welter a tremendous leader but a friend to all who enjoy the game.
Whitney Zelee, Boston Militia
Since joining the Boston Militia, Whitney Zelee has proven to be part of a women’s sporting renaissance for the city. In addition to the CWHL’s Boston Blades helping revolutionize women’s hockey, Zelee is also incorporating female football as part of the city’s sporting conversation.
From a national title as a rookie to rewriting the WFA record books, Zelee has carved a tremendous sporting legacy. During the 2013 WFA campaign, she would become the first woman in female football to accumulate 2,000 rushing yards in one season. Complemented by several contests that featured over 300 rushing yards, Zelee was an integral component in the Militia’s undefeated regular season.