Having grown up in the suburbs of the football mad city of Cleveland, there is a great deal of irony in the fact that Lisa Horton lines up behind center for a team out of Pittsburgh. With a love of the game cultivated in a youth spent cheering for the Browns, Horton was destined for gridiron glory.
Like so many others of her generation, opportunities for football were non-existent. While participation in high school sports such as basketball, softball and volleyball offered some distraction, her love of football could not be extinguished.
While athletic competition at the Division III school Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio maintained her competitive juices, it was not uncommon to see her observing the football practices. After a two-year stint on a full softball scholarship at Cleveland State, her graduate studies would be the unlikely path towards a chance at gridiron glory.
Studying exercise science at Slippery Rock University, while serving as the softball team’s graduate assistant, she had heard about a women’s tackle football team hosting tryouts in Pittsburgh. Having made the team, she would embark on a new and exciting chapter in her life, while establishing herself as one of the Iron City’s greatest female athletes.
Educating herself in the game through a training program borrowed from former Pitt Panthers quarterback Tyler Palko, it would lead to a season with the minor-league men’s team Pittsburgh Colts. She would leave her mark on the club as she became the first female to throw a touchdown pass in a men’s game.
During the 2007 season, when Horton was named league MVP, one of her performances led to the popular SportsCenter broadcast from ESPN featuring her as one of their Top 10 Plays of the Day. She has followed it up with MVP nods in 2009 and 2012.
As the Pittsburgh Passion boast one of the most loyal fan bases in female football – attendance of 5,000 fans is not uncommon – it has transformed Horton into a local celebrity. Being recognized in public and getting requests for autographs are part of life for the Passion’s field general.
Ironically, the co-owner and coach of the Passion, Teresa Conn, also graduated from Slippery Rock. With the Rock having had a positive impact on Conn’s life (she would graduate in 1986), she and Horton are part of a tremendous group of alumnae that have suited up for the Passion.
Other alumnae have included the likes of Angela Baker, Talisa Beachom (whose husband is the wide receivers coach), Robbin Carlos, Michelle Cook, Jen Hoffman, Tera McIntosh, Cathy Lee Peffer, Shawna Rouse, Jordan Zeunges and Shelley Zoelle. Team photographer Dayna Manipole also graduated from Slippery Rock.
Horton’s remarkable character shone in the 2008 conference championship loss to the Chicago Force. Despite the heartbreaking 8-7 loss, the injuries she sustained are like a badge of honor. A bruise on her shoulder was attributed to a third quarter tackle that placed her out of bounds. The ensuing tackle would lead to a tear in her anterior cruciate ligament. She would return in the fourth quarter despite playing on a leg that was severely injured.
Statistically, Horton is still one of the WFA’s elite passers. During the 2013 campaign, her 1802 passing yards ranked second among all WFA quarterbacks, trailing only Sami Grisafe. In addition, her 116 completions and 215 attempts also ranked second to Grisafe. The 23 touchdown passes she accumulated in 2013 tied with Rachel Gore of the Majestics for third overall while her 109.9 passer rating placed her in the league’s Top 20, respectively.
Currently a Health and Wellness Operations Director for the YMCA in Metropolitan DC, she also worked for the YMCA at their branch in Pittsburgh’s U.S. Steel Tower. In addition, she was also the wellness operations and performance coach at D1 Pittsburgh. It is a similar role that she occupies with the Passion as she pulls double duty as strength and conditioning coach. Developing the team’s conditioning program, she is an integral component of the squad’s success.
Combining the ability to provide a superlative effort on and off the field, Horton represents the spirit of female football. Dedicated, hard-working women not afraid to tackle new challenges and push themselves to higher limites. With the city of Pittsburgh having produced some memorable sporting heroes, it is only fitting that former Steelers running back (and Hall of Famer) Franco Harris is a co-owner of the Passion. While he played for a remarkable team during a legendary period in pro football history, he is now part of a new football legacy in the Iron City. As the city has many great male sports heroes (such as Terry Bradshaw, Roberto Clemente, Mario Lemieux and Willie Stargell to name a few), Harris can boast how one of the greatest female quarterbacks in WFA history broke ground by becoming one of the city’s finest female sports legends.