Commemorating the magical year that was 2013 in women’s tackle football, the efforts of these fearless female gridiron competitors is the subject of The Tackle Girls. A non-profit production that captures the efforts of the US national women’s football team during their golden glory at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vantaa, Finland, it is a rare glimpse into a world that continues to grow.
Spearheaded by Boston Militia wide receiver Adrienne Smith, the journey towards making the documentary a reality was motivated by posterity. Holding an MBA in Media and Entertainment from Columbia Business School, the highly articulate Smith was looking to empower the game in a unique fashion. Having also been a member of the 2010 US squad that captured the inaugural IFAF Women’s World championship, she felt it was important to record the accomplishments for the upcoming Worlds in 2013.
Having contacted USA Football in January 2013 about obtaining permission to produce a documentary about the US women’s team, Smith received the greenlight. From there, she had proceeded to develop the documentary under the title of Gridiron Queendom. With a production crew that featured Sasha Santiago, a director friend, and a former football teammate, Leeann Brzozowski, Smith’s ambitious dream was about to begin.
Consultation from the National Football League began with the contributions of Mark Waller, the league’s Chief Marketing Officer. Having originally communicated with him at Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, Texas, he was a key figure in providing any support that Smith and her team required. Other NFL luminaries that were involved included the likes of two-time Super Bowl champion Deion Sanders and 2013 NFL Draft pick Geno Smith. The two donated their time to be interviewed for the project.
By April, Smith had come to the realization that the documentary would be too large for her to accomplish on her own, as she had to juggle the demands of performing on the field. Enter Pyewackitt Productions, an established and seasoned production company that would partner with Smith. She discussed how the partnership yielded positive results,
“One of the first suggestions Bill and Megan made was to change the title of the documentary from “Gridiron Queendom” to “Tackle Girls” as they thought it would be more catchy, and I agreed. From there on, Pyewackitt Productions successfully filmed Team USA’s training camp in Chicago, the tournament in Finland, as well as the WFA Championship and All-Star game in San Diego.
We were even able to film the team’s historic meeting in Washington D.C. with the White House Council on Women and Girls – an endeavor I had been working to make happen since 2010.”
The executive producers and co-directors featured Bill Harris and Megan Smith-Harris. Bill Harris made a remarkable contribution to television as he was integral in the development of the award-winning series Biography on A&E. Of note, Smith-Harris once wrote comedy programs for CBC Radio in Canada. Other members of the production staff that have contributed include Ann Marie O’Brien as the Director of Development and Kelsey Harkness with Social Media.
With six nations, including host-country Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Spain (making their debut in the event), the game has quietly grown on a global scale. Although the rest of the world will need time to catch up to the US, several breakthroughs have occurred. Tea Tormanen from Team Finland played with the WFA’s DC Divas franchise in 2010 and 2011. Cheryl O’Leary, who was recently elected President of the MWFL in Atlantic Canada, served as a mentor coach on the Canadian contingent. Her presence is helping to break barriers in another aspect of football; coaching.
Although this is not an environment of multi-million dollar contracts and endorsements, these wondrous women are truly worth their weight in gold. Any of these fearless competitors is worthy of having their image grace the Wheaties box.
As 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX legislation, other female gold medal performances have been celebrated and emerged as part of American sporting lore. Mary Lou Retton became America’s sweetheart after the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. Beach volleyball has made Misty May and Kerri Walsh household names. Perhaps the most famous female sporting event in America was the 1999 World Cup of Soccer with Brandi Chastain.
With female football having yet to reach such heights in the American sporting conversation, a preview airing in New York City’s Times Square on January 30 during Super Bowl week may certainly augment conversation. For all the fans that may not have known of the sports’ existence, the documentary not only provides a crash course, but it endears the viewers to the remarkable personalities that make up the sport.
The documentary harkens memories of a similar production in Canada titled The Game of Her Life. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, it provided a much-needed introduction to a nation of sports fans that may not have been aware of the existence of women’s hockey. Capturing on film the events from the 1997 IIHF Women’s Worlds to the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, the jubilation and desolation of the Canadian National Women’s team served as a landmark in helping the sport grow.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the production is the fact that it captures the unique dynamics between players. WFA players go from rivals in league play to teammates on Team USA. After sharing in the glories of earning the title of the world’s finest in Vantaa, Finland, they return stateside for postseason play as rivals again.
Such intensity is captured perfectly at the WFA National Title Game when the Chicago Force and Dallas Diamonds clash in San Diego. More than a dozen players represented these two titans on Team USA as emotions ran high.
Dallas featured the likes of Kenoris Blackmon, Brittany Bushman, Alberta Fitcheard-Bryson, Odessa Jenkins, Rachel May and Dr. Jen Welter. Chicago countered with Ashley Berggren, Tami Engelman, Jeanette Gray, Sami Grisafe, Brandy Hatcher, Kimberly Marks, Jamie Menzyk, Elizabeth Okey and Dawn Pederson. Friendships were quickly replaced on the field by a desire to leave San Diego with the coveted title.
Of note, The Tackle Girls also features the music of Chicago Force quarterback and recording artist Sami Grisafe. Having performed the Star Spangled Banner before the gold medal game of the 2013 IFAF Worlds, it is as powerful and emotional as Whitney Houston’s rendition of the anthem prior to Super Bowl XXV. Grisafe would also get to perform at Wrigley Field (where the Force were honored by the Cubs baseball club) and at the Illinois State Legislature. One music critic stated that if Janis Joplin and Eddie Vedder had a child, it would be Grisafe.
The female football version of Peyton Manning, she was born to play quarterback. Having played at the quarterback position against boys at the high school level in California, she is a marvel. Establishing herself as the finest player of her generation, she extols all the qualities of leadership. 2013 would prove to be a banner year for the rocket-armed Grisafe. She would begin by leading the US to its second consecutive gold and wrapped it up with a highly-coveted WFA crown.
As a side note, it is not the first time that WFA football has been captured on film. Nikki Johnson, who has played in Las Vegas with their WFA and LFL frachises, was a former intern with NFL Films in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Johnson and her WFA teammates on the Las Vegas Showgirlz were featured in a brief documentary by NFL Films, helping provide much-needed exposure.
The Tackle Girls builds on such momentum, representing a watershed moment for female football in America. With the goal of ensuring the rest of the sports world catches up to the wonder that is female football, it deserves to be essential viewing for any young female in sports looking to make her sporting dreams come true.