Dr. Jen Welter continues to blaze trail for women in football with historic appearance for Texas Revolution

In the spirit of female competitors such as Manon Rheaume (hockey), Anne Donovan (basketball) and Tiffany Richards (baseball) that challenged convention by playing with the boys, Dr. Jen Welter proudly follows in their empowering legacies. Having broken new ground in the traditionally male dominated field of tackle football, Welter donned the Texas Revolution jersey on February 15 and was prepared to make a run at history.

The community of Allen, Texas, home to the Indoor Football League’s Revolution, showed their support as over 5,000 fans filled the stadium to witness the wonder that is Welter. With the club hosting the North Texas Crunch for its season opener, pride was also on the line as the Revolution were hoping to start the season on a winning note.

After a grueling week-long training camp, Welter earned her chance to become the first female to compete in a non-kicking position in men’s football. The third quarter would provide the opportunity for Welter to grace the IFL gridiron. While she finished with three rushes for a loss of one yard, she had proven that she could take a bruising, punishing hit and rise back to her feet.

Statistically, it would be easy for the hardened cynic to judge her performance strictly by the numbers. Considering that the legendary Walter Payton rushed for zero yards in his NFL debut but would retire as the league’s all-time leading rusher, one game cannot define a career. As Welter is still learning the running back position, her determination is admirable.

The fact that she was able to withstand the hit was in itself a significant victory. For fans unfamiliar with Welter, contact is not an aspect of the game that she is unfamiliar with. A legendary linebacker and four-time champion with the Dallas Diamonds, she has also competed with the US National Team in 2010 and 2013.

With possibilities to also get more accustomed to the game on special teams, there is no question that Welter’s fans believe she can continue to grow as an IFL competitor. Judging by her character and heart, there is no question that she will dedicate herself to making even greater contributions to the Revolution if given the chance.

As the final score resulted in a 64-30 victory for the Revolution over the North Texas Crunch, the fact that her teammates treated her like an equal signified an even greater victory. The courage of individuals such as general manager (and former Heisman Trophy winner) Tim Brown along with head coach Chris Williams set a very strong and positive tone that may hopefully serve as the catalyst towards a new and exciting trend in football.

Welter’s effort in making history and proving that women can play this game is symbolic of the growth in female football. Despite the setbacks that female football has endured in its early years (teams folding, leagues dissolving, struggles to be taken seriously), the sport always remained part of the sporting landscape. Despite setbacks, the growth of the game could not be contained. Like the game, Welter is able to get back up and not be discouraged about being knocked down.

It is perhaps appropriate that her brush with history occurred during the Sochi Winter Games. A few days after the football contest, Finland’s Noora Raty, a legendary goaltender in female hockey announced in Sochi that she wanted to pursue professional men’s hockey.

With Raty having a tryout lined up with Kiekko-Vantaa in a second-tier men’s hockey league in Finland, there is a unique trace of irony. Considering the 2013 IFAF Womens’ Worlds (where Welter earned her second gold medal for Team USA) was held in Vantaa, there is definitely the feeling of a karmic connection between Welter and Raty. As the Finnish city was part of an empowering chapter in the growth of female football, it may help write a new one in which one day, the cultural norm will see women and men competing together at elite levels as part of sporting convention.

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#jen-welter, #texas-revolution

Sarah Schkeeper the iron woman of feminine football

As women’s football continues to experience unprecedented growth, one of its most durable and reliable players is worthy of the moniker of hero. Sarah Schkeeper has successfully established herself as more than just a world-class talent, but a tower of strength on and off the field.

Competing on the offensive line at the guard position for the New York Sharks, Schkeeper earned the privilege to compete for the United States at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vantaa, Finland. Blocking for an offense that pounded opponents into submission, Schkeeper would emerge with a gold medal while competing in the starting lineup.

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Hailing from Livingston, New Jersey, Schkeeper is known affectionately as “The Viking” as she wears braided pigtails in games. Her initial exposure to football was attributed to her older brother. As their mother prevented him from competing on the gridiron due to concerns over injury, the two began participating in backyard football, a rite of passage for many youngsters.

Destined to compete, Schkeeper would be introduced to the New York Sharks during her graduate studies in the Big Apple. After successfully completing her undergraduate studies in Philadelphia, one of her first forays in New York resulted in coming across details of open tryouts on the Sharks’ website. One of the most legendary franchises in feminine football history, it is not only the longest in operations, but also the winningest.

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Suiting up for the Sharks as a rookie in 2009, it would mark the beginning of a football legacy that few offensive linemen could ever match. Ironically, it was her first exposure to competing in an organized sport. The fact that she would become a world champion merely four years later is nothing short of remarkable.

Channeling the skills of some of the greatest linemen in football history such as Kent Hull, Will Shields, Gene Upshaw, she is forging her own legacy as the premier blocker in female football history. Her illustrious career is testament to the ambition and determination that women have had in attempting to shatter barriers and have an equal opportunity to play.

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While offensive line is one of the most unglamorous and under-recognized positions in football, those who clash on the line of scrimmage in order to protect their offensive counterparts are truly the unsung heroes in the sport. Schkeeper would elevate such intensity to a higher level. Having never missed a game since her rookie campaign of 2009, she is truly an iron woman in the sport.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Schkeeper’s durability occurred off the football field. Engaging in cycling as a leisure activity, she would be hit twice by vehicles on the unforgiving streets of Brooklyn. Despite the fact that these incidents occurred within a period of four months, she did not suffer one broken bone. Diagnosed with only a concussion and a dislocated rib, it would be easy to look at her as indestructible.

Off the field, she is equally successful with a remarkable educational background and a promising career in the field of architecture. Having graduated from Temple University and the Pratt Institute, she is tackling the world of architecture and design with an equal vigor.

From engaging in concept design, project management and remodeling, her multi-tasking abilities have led her to work for Michael Graves and Steven Sclaroff. Employing a strong sense of balance and composition, her experiences have given her confidence to take the ultimate step.

Utilizing the ambition and energy that has transformed her into a living legend in football, Schkeeper has become an entrepreneur. The principal owner of reCON Studio, the breadth of services that she provides ranges from designs such as architectural, interior, concept and industrial to 3D modeling, rendering and animation.

Highly skilled and articulate, the ability for Schkeeper to juggle the obligations of the gridiron, career and family is symbolic of the modern-day woman. Part super-hero and part tireless, Schkeeper is the type of individual that anyone would want to have on their team. Also a proud aunt to six children, she is a gentle giant with a heart of gold that proves it is never too late to pursue your dreams.

#2013-ifaf-womens-world-football-championships, #new-york-sharks, #sarah-schkeeper

Windy City to host the 2014 WFA National Championship as league expands event with new feature

As excited fans circle August 1 and 2, 2014 on their calendar, the Women’s Football Alliance has announced that the city of Chicago shall host the league’s national championship event on those days. With the defending WFA champion Chicago Force serving as the host franchise, they shall be looking to make their third consecutive trip to the national championship.

Contested at Lane Stadium, two miles west of famed Wrigley Field, the contest shall be preceded by two other events. The Alliance Bowl is the newest offering to the WFA championship weekend schedule. Featuring clubs from both the American and National conferences that participated in the postseason, but did not qualify for their respective conference championship game; they shall take part in a contest against each other.

The concept is unique for competitive sport as many consolation matches tend to have third-place ramifications. Similar events have included the National Football League’s Playoff Bowl in the 1960’s, where second place teams played each other in a neutral site game. In addition, the Maritime Women’s Football League features the Friendship Bowl, where the two teams eliminated in the semi-finals compete.

As the WFA features 80 teams, there are some teams from each conference that are too geographically sparse to play each other in regular season play. The opportunity to feature elite clubs in a postseason event such as the Boston Militia or the DC Divas challenge elite teams from the Western United States such as the Dallas Diamonds or the Central Cal War Angels brings with it a unique showcase for fans and players alike.

The fifth annual WFA All-American Game shall kick off festivities on August 2. As All-America selections from the American and National Conference gather in Chicago for the league’s signature display of the finest football talent, fans are hoping for more offensive fireworks.

In 2013, the National Conference prevailed in a 48-31 victory, the largest combined score in All-American game history. Considering it was also the National Conference’s third consecutive victory, the opportunity to extend that win streak only adds to the excitement.

Everything leads up to the WFA National Championship at 5 pm, which will be broadcast nationally on ESPN3. As it signifies the fourth consecutive season that ESPN3 has been involved as a broadcast partner, it bodes well for the opportunity to continue to build a national audience and following for the exciting sport. In the five-year history of the event, no club has won back-to-back titles. With the Chicago Force as defending national champions, the opportunity to make such history on home soil is one that would solidify their legacy as one of the world’s finest female football organizations.

#2014-wfa-national-championship

Boston Militia superstar Adrienne Smith sets the gold standard with Team USA documentary

One of the finest and most accomplished female wide receivers in the world, Adrienne Smith is truly in a class all her own. Not only has she helped the United States capture gold twice at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, she registered the first touchdown in the history of the event in 2010.

For Smith, the opportunity to make history is also a positive example of empowering women and teaching them to follow their dreams. Having grown up in Alexandria, Virginia, she is also a businesswoman hoping to make the dream of a professional women’s football league a reality.

Competing for Team USA in 2013, she would emerge as the leader in four offensive categories; receiving yards (206), average yards per reception (29.4), longest reception (73 yards) and average yards per game (68.7). Of note, she would tie with Jessica Gray for the lead in touchdown receptions with three.

Running for daylight against Canada (Getty Images)

Running for daylight against Canada (Getty Images)

In the gold medal game against Canada, she had a team-best 117 yards receiving along with the team-best 73-yard reception from US quarterback Sami Grisafe. One of only six US players to catch at least one pass in every game, she was also one of only two players (the other being Gray) to register a touchdown in every game too.

When not donning the US jersey, she can be seen in the Women’s Football Alliance competing on the gridiron for the Boston Militia. As a side note, Militia teammates Mia Brickhouse, Victoria Eddy and Stephanie Jeffers were also part of the US contingent in 2013.

Playing alongside the likes of quarterback Allison Cahill and record-breaking running back Whitney Zelee as teammates with the Militia, the presence of this titanic trio on the gridiron led to an undefeated regular season in 2013. They are certainly reminiscent of the Dallas Cowboys “triplets” of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.

As Zelee became the first player in female football to accumulate 2,000 rushing yards in a season, it would be easy to overlook the remarkable achievements of Smith. Possessing an exceptional desire to win, Smith proved to be an invaluable component of the passing game as she led all Militia players in receptions (24) and receiving yardage (380). Of note, she would rank fifth overall in touchdowns for a Militia squad that averaged an impressive 534.1 yards of offense per game.

Off the football field, she has contributed equally impressive heroics. Possessing an MBA in Media & Entertainment from Columbia Business School, as well as television and film production experience, it served as a motivational factor in starting a film project that would document Team USA’s road towards gold in 2013.

“In January 2013, I contacted USA Football and asked permission to produce a documentary about the U.S. women’s national tackle football team. As a member of the 2010 U.S. women’s national tackle football team, I felt it extremely important that in 2013, some record be made as to the accomplishments my teammates and I were about to achieve. I received the greenlight from USA Football and proceeded to develop the documentary under the title of “Gridiron Queendom“.”

Not only would the documentary film serve as one of her greatest legacies to the game, it would also serve as one of its gifts. Working with Sasha Santiago, a friend with directing experience, and former teammate Leeann Brzozowski, they would form the core of the original production team

“From there, I met with Mark Waller, Chief Marketing Officer for the NFL, to discuss my plans for the U.S. women’s football team documentary. I originally met Mark at the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas. I kept in contact with him over the years and was extremely grateful for the tremendous support he provided. Mark rolled out the proverbial “red carpet” in terms of the access he granted me and my production team.

(Starting) from January to June of 2013 I was able to secure some fantastic footage including interviews with players such as Deion Sanders and Geno Smith, who discussed their views on women and girls playing football. I also worked diligently to develop the film in other areas including a crowd-funding campaign that Sasha and I launched via Indiegogo.com.”

As the WFA regular season and the IFAF Women’s Worlds were arriving quickly, Smith understood that it would be essential to find a partner. In order to balance her time preparing for the gridiron, while ensuring that her dream of bringing the documentary to reality would proceed, a husband and wife production team would build on the foundation that Smith already established.

“In April I began to realize that my vision for the documentary about the U.S. women’s national tackle football team was too large for me to accomplish on my own. It would be too difficult to be a member of the national team and try to shoot the film at the same time, so I began searching for another production company with which I could partner. In June, I decided to partner with Pyewackitt Productions as they were an established and seasoned production company that could help me bring my vision for the documentary to fruition.”

While the title would change from Gridiron Queendom to The Tackle Girls, both names have proven to be synonymous with the empowering message of female football. The end result was the preservation of a special moment in time, one that would capture the essence of dedication and perseverance, two of the qualities needed to become a world championship team.

Speaking to Jodi Apple Kay and John Elliott on New York’s CBS affiliate WLNY-TV about The Tackle Girls (Image obtained from: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/10/08/female-football-player-wont-rule-out-possibility-of-pro-football-league-for-females/)

Speaking to Jodi Apple Kay and John Elliott on New York’s CBS affiliate WLNY-TV about The Tackle Girls (Image obtained from: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/10/08/female-football-player-wont-rule-out-possibility-of-pro-football-league-for-females/)

A watershed moment for The Tackle Girls documentary came during Super Bowl Week in New York City when Pyewackitt Productions hosted a private screening of the film. Sami Grisafe, the starting quarterback for Team USA, was also in NYC for this remarkable moment. A talented musician, Grisafe’s music was featured in the documentary which celebrates a landmark moment for female sport in America. She also preformed shows during Super Bowl week at clubs in Brooklyn, New York and Asbury Park, New Jersey.

In the meanwhile, Gridiron Queendom has become the name of Smith’s new company. With a website that is serving as the ultimate destination for women and girls who are fans and/or players of the gridiron game, it is another avenue for Smith to express her ambitions while creating a community based on mutual respect and a love for the game.

Like many of the remarkable women that engage in the gridiron game, Smith is part of a pioneering generation which is breaking barriers and inspiring young girls to not only pursue their dreams, but provide them with the self-esteem to accomplish them. The ability to supply such confidence is one that could never be measured by the number of championships or statistics that one accumulates in a career, it encompasses a spirit that makes one a winner before the game even begins.

#2013-ifaf-womens-world-football-championships, #adrienne-smith, #boston-militia, #the-tackle-girls