Memorabilia from Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas to be displayed in Canton

Week one during the 2015 NFL preseason opened on a historic note. While the Arizona Cardinals hosted the Kansas City Chiefs at the University of Phoenix Stadium, falling by a score of 34-19, sporting equality took a historic and exciting step forward. With Dr. Jen Welter in her capacity as a coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals’ middle linebackers, signifying the first game in NFL history to feature a female member of a participating team’s coaching staff; there was another element that added to such a landmark game.

Sarah Thomas, the first full-time female official hired by the NFL was making her officiating debut in the contest. With history being made twice in one night, it was only fitting that the event should be commemorated at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. A flip card of the game was signed by both Thomas and Welter for display in the Hall.

In addition, a photograph of the two along with Welter’s game-worn coaches shirt (of white color with the Cardinals logo on the left) was also placed on display. Beaming with pride, Welter was celebratory on social media, while providing an inspiring message for girls and women looking to make their own dreams come true,

“It’s official, for woman the road to Canton starts with a white shirt…. As a woman who saved my first check of $12 women’s football, and paid dearly to play… A simple white shirt makes a profound statement! @profootballhof thank you for the honor. To all the girls and women out there, let passion, potential, & God’s purpose guide you, not simply a paycheck. That’s #HOF advice in life, not just football.”

Not only was Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians gracious in his assessment of Thomas’ debut, calling her “solid”, linebacker Markus Golden appeared on Arizona Sport 98.7 FM stating that Welter was a really good coach, doing a good job. Welter has certainly gained her own share of new fans. At the Cardinals training facility, fans have been eagerly looking to obtain her autograph. Having earned her doctorate in 2014, she is known affectionately by the sobriquet, “Dr. J”.

Of note, Welter and Thomas are not the only women to have made significant inroads in football this year. Broadcaster Beth Mowins was hired by the Oakland Raiders as their first-ever female play-by-play announcer. In years past, Amy Trask was a CEO for the Raiders, adding to their proud legacy of women in football. Adding to such a momentous hire was the New York Jets appointing Jacqueline Davidson to the position of director of football administration.

For Welter, a two-time IFAF Women’s World Champion that played over a decade with the Dallas Diamonds, football was not her first sport. Attending high school in Florida, she graced the tennis court, following with several solid seasons of rugby with the Boston College Eagles.

Having broken barriers as the first woman to play in a non-kicking position in men’s professional football with the Texas Revolution, she would also coach with the Revolution in 2015. A remarkable show of support must be credited to another individual with strong NFL roots. Former Raiders great (and Hall of Famer) Tim Brown holds the General Manager position with the Revolution and was in awe of Welter’s work ethic and ability to never give up.

The Hall of Fame recognition is one that is highly fitting for both Welter and Thomas. The proverbial icing on the cake for both would be their likenesses on a football card. Perhaps in the near future, Canton shall open its doors to female football players, akin to the Hockey Hall of Fame inducting female hockey players. On the field, Welter was part of an exciting generation for the growth of women’s football, one that featured the likes of Sami Grisafe, Liz Sowers and Donna Wilkinson, not just Hall of Fame athletes, but Hall of Fame people.

Although Welter has drawn comparisons to former WNBA star Becky Hammon, the first woman to serve full-time on an NBA coaching staff (with the San Antonio Spurs), the bigger picture signifies a watershed moment for women in sport. From women’s hockey players such as Hilary Knight, Lesley Reddon and Anne Schleper earning the chance to practice with NHL clubs over this past season to women’s baseball being contested for the first time at the Pan American Games, Welter is part of a group of pioneers that are not just building a new and exciting role for women in sport, they are subsequently building self-esteem and confidence for all women.


Third edition of the Women’s World Football Games to be held in New Orleans

Taking place from March 1-6, 2016, the third edition of the Women’s World Football Games promises to build on its great legacy of bringing women from the world over to share their love of the gridiron game. Spearheaded by Samantha Rapoport, who also helped organize the first two editions, her commitment to excellence is testament to the early successes of such an initiative. As one of the fastest growing sports among women in Europe (Finland recently captured the 2015 Women’s European Championship), the WWFG will only help to strengthen the enthusiasm of these empowered women.

To be hosted in New Orleans, Louisiana, all registered female football tackle players shall spend a week at the New Orleans Saints training facility. In addition to the excitement of eating meals in the same cafeteria as the Saints players, the Super Bowl XLIV champions boast one of the finest facilities in professional football, only adding to the excitement of the event.

In years past, players have also enjoyed the benefits of NFL facilities. The inaugural Women’s World Football Games were hosted near Dallas, Texas, and players had the opportunity to visit the five-time Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys facilities. In addition, the players had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jen Welter, who has broken multiple barriers for women in football.

During the 2015 edition of the Women’s World Football Games, players enjoyed the sunshine in Tampa, Florida, home to one of the premier cities in the American south for football. Not only were NFL coaches on hand to provide instruction on techniques, members of the eventual 2015 WFA national champion DC Divas were on-hand for encouragement and support. Among them were Team USA alumnae Donna Wilkinson and Callie Brownson, along with Missy Bedwell, who has played more seasons of female football than any other woman in the United States, dating back to 1999.

Although further details are still pending, the buzz generated on social media has been energizing. Female footballers from the world over have already proclaimed their interest on numerous sites, ensuring that attendance shall increase for the second consecutive time. With the next IFAF Women’s World Championships in 2017, there is no question that the positive impact of the WWFG shall speak for itself, as borderless football is one where the game shall be built on mutual respect and a mutual goal of growing the game.

#WWFG3 #whodat

Finland defeats Great Britain in 2015 WEC Finals

As the Women’s European Championships were held on the same weekend as the Women’s Football Alliance championship game, it signified a remarkable time for female football. Estadio Maracena hosted three games on the same day, culminating with the gold medal game.

In the fifth place game, Spain narrowly escaped with a victory, besting Sweden by a 14-12 tally. Germany continued to show its status as an elite football nation, prevailing convincingly over Austria by a 26-7 mark. Finland, who captured the bronze medal at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, continued their reign as a European powerhouse, dismantling a greatly improved Great Britain team by a 50-12 margin.

During the first quarter, Great Britain’s defense was overwhelming, only allowing Finland to score six points. Jayne Goodliffe would kick a field goal with 6:24 remaining in the first, providing Great Britain with the first lead of the game. Although the Finns would reply with a touchdown by quarterback Jenni Wahlberg, the extra point attempt was no good. Led by linebacker Phoebe Schecter, who was recognized as Great Britain’s Player of the Game in a preliminary round win against Germany, a promising first quarter provided the Brits with confidence that an upset was possible.

Making adjustments in the second quarter, Finland scored a pair of rushing touchdowns by Paula Lehtinen and Wahlberg, while Great Britain’s quarterback Joannah (Jo) Kilby managed a quarterback sneak. Facing a 20-9 deficit at halftime, Great Britain was still within reach, but the offense would have to be more efficient in the second half.

Once again, Great Britain’s defense frustrated Finland, allowing only six points. Despite Ruth Matta providing a solid running game for Great Britain, the squad had difficulty putting up points. Trying to establish momentum, the best that the Brits could muster was another field goal by Godliffe.

Such frustration would come to a boil in the fourth quarter, as fatigue and humidity took its toll. Trailing by 14 points heading into the fourth quarter, Great Britain were unable to score any points. Despite their best efforts, the British defense collapsed under a strong offensive attack that resulted in Jenni Linden scoring a pair of touchdowns while Wahlberg decimated the opposing defense.

Scoring 24 unanswered points, a 26-12 lead after three quarters exploded to 50-12 upon the game’s completion. Wahlberg would score her third rushing touchdown of the game during the fourth quarter, while Tytti Kuusinen would score the game’s final touchdown with 4:13 remaining.

Despite the fourth quarter collapse, Great Britain was the feel-good story of the event. Entering the tournament ranked last, a remarkable performance which featured strong poise at the quarterback position by Kilby, swift running by Matta, and powerful effort by Schecter set the tone for a British team that is now ranked second in Europe.

Four members of the Finnish team were named Tournament All-Stars, including offensive lineman Mirva Honkonen, wide receiver Paula Lehtinen, running back Jenni Linden and quarterback Jenni Wahlberg. Great Britain’s feature running back Ruth Matta plus offensive lineman Laura Dye were the only Brits named to the All-Star team. As a side note, both running backs, Linden and Matta were recognized as the Players of the Game for their respective teams.

DC Divas prevail in classic championship contest against Dallas Elite

A powerful running game proved to be the factor in the DC Divas earning their first-ever WFA national championship and second title in franchise history. Facing off against a Dallas Elite squad that boasted the number one ranked defense in the nation, the Divas were slight underdogs, a position they had not been accustomed to during a dominant (and undefeated) season.

In the first quarter, the Divas took full advantage of clock possession, looking to exhaust the Elite defense. With Kenyatta Grigsby scoring the game’s first touchdown midway through the quarter, it placed the Elite in a rare position of being behind in a game.

Compounded by the frustration of being on the sideline for so long, the Elite offense did not appear in sync. An incomplete pass resulted in a fumble recovery by Safi Mojidi, as the Divas enjoyed remarkable field position. Lining up at the Elite seven-yard line, Grigsby scored on a two-yard run, as the Elite now suffered a 13 point deficit.

Heading into the second quarter, the Divas had a fourth-and-eighth situation. One of the few times in the first half that the Divas offense struggled, the ball was turned over on downs after an incomplete pass. Such an advantage worked in the Elite’s favor as Odessa Jenkins ran to daylight on a 20-yard run, providing her club with their first points of the game. With the two-point conversion unsuccessful, the Elite trailed by a 13-6 mark.

After the frustration of their last possession, the Divas offense wasted little time in adding to their lead. Allyson Hamlin, the only quarterback in Washington football history with 200 touchdown passes, connected with Ashley Whisonant on a 45-yard touchdown pass. With Stephanie Nealis converting the point after attempt, the Divas lead was extended to 14 points.

Despite Elite quarterback Jessica Gerhart orchestrating an 83-yard drive on their previous possession, such an occurrence would not repeat itself. Instead, Gerhart was intercepted by first-year player Quiana Ford. With the ball on the Elite 34-yard line, the Divas took full advantage as Okiima Pickett eventually scored on a 12-yard run.
Gerhart would redeem herself on the next possession. A sparkling 63-yard drive picked apart the Divas defense, culminating in a four-yard touchdown run, as the Divas lead was reduced to a 27-12 margin. Before the half would expire, the Divas had one more possession and were looking to demoralize their opponents with another scoring drive.

Employing a little risk, Hamlin attempted to connect with Kentrina Wilson for a touchdown. Under coverage, Wilson was unable to add to the Divas lead, as the Elite defense intercepted the ball, preventing a further deficit. Despite the risk not yielding the desired result, it proved to be only Hamlin’s second interception all season, testament to her laser-like accuracy.

In the third quarter, Gerhart showed tremendous poise as she assembled a 77-yard drive. Throwing for her first touchdown of the pass, the ensuing play was an unsuccessful two-point conversion, resulting in a 27-18 score. Taking into account that the Elite also had a failed two-point attempt in the first half, the final score would show that the PAT attempt on both attempts may have been the better strategy.

The next two offensive possessions of the game resulted in the Divas not only preserving their lead, but adding to it. A field goal by Nealis put the Divas ahead by 12 points. The Elite’s possession would result in frustration as the Divas defense forced a punt, adding to the pressure of mounting a comeback.

With a holding penalty nullifying a touchdown run by Grigsby, which would have also been her third of the contest, the thought of an Elite comeback was highly possible. Once again, Jenkins was the catalyst on offense for the Elite. Gerhart and Jenkins combined for the game’s finest play, a 55-yard touchdown. With their third attempt at a two-point conversion successful, the
Elite reduced the Divas lead to four points, 30-26. Had those other two-point attempts been just PAT’s, the score would have been 30-28, meaning that Dallas would have needed just a field goal to win.

Needing to recover an onside kick, the Elite tried valiantly, displaying tremendous effort. Luckily for the Divas, Whitney Simms managed to gain possession of the ball. Despite preventing the Elite offense from returning on the field, the Divas still needed a first down in order to win as their biggest opponent was the clock.

Three straight handoffs to Grigbsy resulted in nine yards of rushing offense. With six seconds remaining, the Divas needed just one yard to convert on fourth down. With the possibility of Dallas returning a punt for a touchdown, retaining possession and attempting one more rush seemed the more sensible plan. Although there was no denying that Gerhart would throw a hail mary had the Elite recovered on downs, Hamlin’s gutsy performance prevented such a scenario.

Despite being stonewalled by the Elite defense, Hamlin was still on her feet. As valuable seconds were still ticking away on the clock, she opted to leap forward again and try to surpass the line of scrimmage. Managing to grab that very valuable first down, the championship was now out of reach for the Elite, as the Divas were able to run out the clock.

Defensively, All-American Tia Watkins paced all Divas with 11.5 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Ranking second was Safi Mojidi, registering 6.5 tackles, along with a fumble recovery. Quiana Ford returned an interception for 23 yards, while Cherre Marshall had the Divas’ only forced fumble of the contest. At halftime, Watkins was recognized as the National Conference Defensive Player of the Year, while head coach Alison Fischer had the honor of WFA Coach of the Year bestowed upon her.

Averaging 5.2 yards per carry, the Divas utilized a running game in which 46 rushing attempts shredded the Elite defense for a total of 238 rushing yards and three touchdowns. WFA All-America selection Kenyatta Grigsby led the way for the Divas with an impressive 148 yards performance, racking up a pair of touchdowns.

Okiima Pickett would log the other rushing touchdown for the Divas, while accumulating 40 rushing yards, respectively. Longtime Divas player, Ashley Whisonant paced all Divas with 98 yards through the air, catching Allyson Hamlin’s only touchdown pass. Also competing on defense and special teams, Whisonant was recognized as the game’s Most Valuable Player.

References: Neal Rozendaal

Seattle Mist off to their first-ever trip to Legends Cup championship game

Quite possibly the signature rivalry in Legends Football League, the Los Angeles Temptation and Seattle Mist collided in the postseason for another year. Battling for the privilege of representing the Western Conferecne in the upcoming Legends Cup, the familiarity between the two ensured that the intensity would result in another epic confrontation. Adding to the excitement of the event was the fact that it was being contested at Toyota Park in suburban Chicago, the home field of the two-time defending champion Chicago Bliss.

Although the first quarter was a defensive struggle (likely caused by rainy weather earlier in the day), Temptation quarterback Ashley Salerno logged the game’s first touchdown in the dying seconds of the first quarter. With Carmen Bourseau (known affectionately as the F-150) ramming the ball into the end zone for the two-point conversion, the Temptation enjoyed an eight-point lead.

Beginning the second quarter, Mist signal caller KK Matheny showed no signs of panic, which shall prove crucial against a punishing Chicago Bliss defense in the Legends Cup final. Finding Megan Hanson on a 22-yard scoring play, it set the tone for a career day for Matheny. With Mist charter member (and 2012 Legends Cup Canada champion) Jessica Hopkins successfully gaining the two point conversion, the Temptation’s lead had evaporated.

Hopkins would prove to be just as essential on the defensive side of the ball. Having played against Salerno for so many seasons, she was highly effective in breaking up numerous passing attempts, familiarity becoming a key theme.

Despite the Temptation struggling to mount an offensive attack, they managed to regain the lead with only 26 seconds in the second quarter. Successfully running through the middle, disabling the impact of the Mist defense, Sherri Awagah would not only score the Temptation’s second touchdown of the game, she would also manage the two-point conversion.

Even with few seconds remaining, Matheny capitalized, using it to her full advantage. Running out of bounds as a means of strategically stopping the clock, Matheny showed grace under pressure. With just five seconds, she found former Jacksonville Breeze teammates Bryn Renda for a touchdown. Throughout the season, the strong chemistry between the two has proven effective in hotly contested matches against the Temptation.

With just a two-point advantage heading into the third quarter, the Temptation’s dreams of an unprecedented fourth league championship were going to require some real aggression on both sdies of the ball. Instead, it was Seattle pushing closer to their goal, as Matheny managed to find Mele Gilmore for a touchdown pass. Showing great bravura, Matheny would run the ball in for the two-point conversion, as the Mist finally grabbed their first lead in the contest, ahead by six points in a 26-20 score.

Matheny’s efforts were preserved by two remarkable members of the Mist defense. Danika Brace, who is a nominee for both League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors showed her veteran skill on the gridiron, while rookie safety Kadi Findling was emulating Brace, bruising the Temptation with punishing hits.
Although Ashley Salerno had been frustrated by dropped passes, the Hall of Fame candidate showed why she is one of the greatest signal callers in league history. Finding Amber Reed on a 33-yard pass, it turned the momentum towards the Temptation’s favor.

Awagah pounded into the end zone as the Temptation reclaimed the lead with less than five minutes remaining.
Considering that the 2015 Legends Cup shall be contested in Seattle, the Mist did not want their archrivals to be competing for a championship on their home turf. Such motivation translated into Matheny making a strong case for the MVP Award. Connecting with Danika Brace on a 32-yard scoring play, it would prove to be the game winning score and Matheny’s fourth touchdown of the game.

Despite the win, it would prove to be hard earned. The Temptation regained the ball for one last scoring opportunity. Salerno masterfully picked apart the Mist defense, finding tight end Danielle Harvey, consuming 25 yards. With the ball positioned in the red zone, the Temptation opted for the running game.

Awagah was looking to break through the Mist’s defensive wall and find daylight in the end zone. Instead, she was the recipient of a hit by the underrated Megan Hanson, resulting in a fumble. With Lashaunda Fowler recovering the fumble at the Mist’s six-yard line, there were sighs of relief throughout the Mist’s sideline.

As important as Brace’s touchdown was, the fumble stood as the turning point of the game. Taking into account that it was the game’s only turnover, it could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Temptation. Such a play will haunt the squad throughout the offseason, making the road towards next season one to ponder what went wrong.

Statistically, the Temptation gained the advantage in various categories. In terms of possession time (24:47) and net rushing yards (73), the Temptation managed to convincingly outperform the Mist. As a side note, Carmen Bourseau (41 yards) had outrushed the Mist’s two leading rushers combined (Matheny and Schnoor: 38 yards). Logging more total offensive yards (154) and first downs (13), an argument can be made that the Temptation had a better game on paper.

References: LFL360

Remy Olinzock a welcome addition for powerhouse Pittsburgh Passion

As one of the most accomplished female football franchises in the Rust Belt, the Pittsburgh Passion have built a remarkable sporting legacy. Heading into the 2015 campaign, one of the newest acquisitions looking to contribute to said legacy was a highly talented and well-conditioned spitfire known as Remy Olinzock.

Having competed in indoor women’s football in Cleveland and Toledo, Olinzock was not only one of the club’s fan favorites, but exemplified strong leadership. Earning All-Conference honors at her position, she was a beacon of optimism on a team that tried valiantly to place victories in the wins column.

During the winter of 2014, Olinzock was one of several American female football players that travelled to Australia to participate in a series of exhibition games. Competing against a pair of All-Star teams from Australia and New Zealand, Olinzock proudly donned the red, white and blue, while making new friends and establishing herself as an ambassador for the gridiron game.

Suiting up with the Pittsburgh Passion as a free agent, Olinzock immediately paid dividends. Displaying a strong love of the game (one of the hallmarks in her great career), she quickly proved to be one of the finest free agent acquisitions in IWFL football. She was part of a bright first-year class that included Rosie Christian, Jessica Melodia and Hannah Daman, the first girl to play football at Central Valley High School.

With Olinzock’s mother proudly in attendance at home games, showing encouragement and love, it only added to what has become an unforgettable season. This complements the positive impact of her father, who has been her biggest supporter, attending every game in Cleveland, Toledo and Pittsburgh.

In her Passion debut, a 66-0 trouncing of the Toledo Reign, the Star Junction, PA-raised Olinzock had three carries for 61 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown run, the first of her IWFL career. In that same game, fellow running back Sarah Niedermeyer also contributed her first IWFL touchdown.

In action with the Pittsburgh Passion (Image obtained from Facebook)
In action with the Pittsburgh Passion (Image obtained from Facebook)

Another match against Toledo saw Olinzock rush 18 yards for a touchdown in front of a jubilant home crowd, part of a 63-0 whitewash, their 43rd shutout in franchise history. Throughout the season, she would share running back duties with Tara Catone, Tia Montgomery and Niedermeyer, along with providing superlative shows of perseverance on special teams.

A June 27 postseason tilt with the legendary New York Sharks resulted in Olinzock recovering an onside kick and running it back for a touchdown. It would prove to be a crucial play as the Passion emerged victorious in a 35-28 final, while earning the right to play for the Eastern Conference championship.

By season’s end, Olinzock had the opportunity to compete in the 2015 IWFL Championship Game in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Facing a 24-20 halftime deficit, the Passion prevailed in a dramatic come-from-behind fashion, defeating the Utah Falconz by a 41-37 mark for their third championship. Through it all, Olinzock’s enthusiasm, love of the game and encouraging smile contributed to a season that culminated in a 22-game winning streak, 95 franchise wins overall and the third undefeated season in Passion history.

Regina Riot capture first-ever WWCFL championship with convincing triumph

After four years of suffering a loss to the eventual WWCFL champion Saskatoon Valkyries in the Prairie Conference championship game, the Regina Riot persevered and have arrived at the level that eluded them for so many seasons. A convincing triumph against the Edmonton Storm has provided the proud franchise with its first WWCFL championship in franchise history.

Gracing the gridiron at Investor’s Group Field in Winnipeg (which also hosted the eventual champion United States in preliminary round play at the FIFA Women’s World Cup), an historic chapter in Canadian women’s football took place. From the outset, the Regina Riot and the Edmonton Storm had never played each other before.


During the WWCFL’s preseason jamboree, the Riot had competed against the Calgary Rage. Considering that the Rage qualified for the Western Conference championship game, a rematch between the two seemed possible.

Subsequently, neither of these teams had won a championship before, marking a rare occurrence when both contestants have clashed for the chance to win a first title. Having been vanquished by the Valkyries in two previous title game matchups, the Storm were aiming for a better outcome with the Riot.

Instead, it was the Riot that rode a whirlwind of momentum. Quickly capitalizing on the chance to gain a significant lead against their Western Conference opponents, jumping out to a 14-0 advantage, Edmonton could not mount a comeback.

From offensive superstars such as Aimee Kowalski and Carmen Agar dominating through the air and on the ground, the lead grew to a 30-0 margin by halftime. Kowalski would not only connect with her sister Alex for a touchdown, she would also find backup quarterback Sami Bray in the end zone.

Agar would complete the game with a sterling 104 rushing performance. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that she only touched the ball 10 times as she led all players in rushing yardage in the 53-7 triumph.

Although the jubilation of the championships brings with it the all-too obligatory retirement (charter member Angie Douville decided to hang up her helmet), the presence of future stars such as Mira Trebilcock, a two-sport star in hockey and soccer, adds to the confidence of a bright future ahead.

Having spent so many seasons in the shadow of the Valkyries, the first dynasty in the history of the WWCFL, the Riot are poised to build on this unprecedented success. With All-World quarterback Aimee Kowalski not ready to retire yet, the chance to establish a new dynasty is highly likely.