As spring and summer signals the beginning of women’s football throughout North America, one notable omission is the highly promising Central Canadian Women’s Football League (CCWFL). After so much effort and the support of Canadian Football League mainstays such as Hamilton and Toronto, the lack of registered players created an unfortunate setback. Not only was the league forced to cancel its inaugural season, but several pages on social media disappeared.
On the surface, some may see the outcome of the CCWFL’s plans for 2015 as a failure. In reality, there were numerous successes. Perhaps the most important was the fact that it helped start the conversation of women’s football. After the Toronto Triumph, an indoor female football team was shrouded in controversy (despite the best efforts of their players), the CCWFL tried to project a more positive and empowering image.
Founded by Aaron Ellis, the league was a way of paying tribute to the efforts of his daughter Tianna, who competed for her local high school team. Having also played with community-based teams, it was not uncommon that Tianna was the only female on the team, struggling with limited playing team. Feeling isolated and not part of team camaraderie, the gridiron experience did not live up to expectations. As such, the CCWFL was a way for her Tianna and other frustrated females the chance to experience the gridiron glories once reserved only for many male athletes.
Although the still-growing sport of female football may be viewed as a novelty, the awareness raised signified that there was potential for developing it into an obsession. The number of soft commitments were enough to stock the four-team league. Unfortunately, it was a case of “kicking the tires”. Whether it was the possible worry of injuries or a lack of time, it was not yet meant to be.
Due to the remarkable level of high school-level female athletes from the GTA that are earning NCAA scholarships in sports such as hockey, soccer and basketball, it is only natural that tackle football does not come to mind as an initial sport to participate in. If the expertise of the CCWFL’s leadership were to regroup and develop an elite flag football league, helping to establish a stronger network, that may be a very strong first step.
Considering that the growth of female flag football (and touch) has made significant inroads at the university level throughout Ontario, there is chance to build on such momentum. There is no question that future talent for the tackle version of the game shall come from these universities (which was how many teams in the United States initially recruited talent).
One of the most important moments for the league was the acquisition of Cheryl O’Leary to its leadership ranks. Highly qualified and accomplished, her experience with the Maritime Women’s Football League (the longest running female sports league in Canada) as a player, coach and league executive was exactly what the budding league required.
Her presence brought instant credibility to the league. Having also worked as a mentor coach with the Canadian national women’s team, O’Leary is able to evaluate talent. Considering the untapped talent pool that exists in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), it could greatly improve Canada’s chances in international play. An astute football individual like O’Leary could certainly be an ideal mentor for such promising players.
Perhaps in 2016, O’Leary can build on what has transpired and form a traveling team, rather than a league. A team could play exhibition games against the IWFL’s Division III clubs or participate in one of the MWFL’s annual jamborees. A team would not be as ambitious as a league, but it would be a meaningful first step, also ensuring that the intention of the CCWFL was meaningful.
Another aspect that the CCWFL had also shown commitment to included skills camps for aspiring female players. Going forward, those still committed to the concept of the league could remain involved in the game by getting involved in said camps. Over time, there is no question that it would help to develop confidence.
In the short-term, this may prove to be the most useful way to develop talent and grow interest. It would also benefit from knowledgeable people like O’Leary to give seminars, and share her experiences, while possibly addressing the issue of injuries.
The beauty of the sport is that there is room for everyone. In the United States, there was one instance where a grandmother actually played the game. Despite its growth, the success stories about the sport helping many women believe in themselves, overcoming body image issues and creating lifelong friendships forms a significant legacy.