Female football heroes have proud roots in the military

In recognition of Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States, many of the amazing women who have served in the military also have proud ties to the gridiron. While all have unique stories and varied backgrounds, their ability to become part of a new generation of women shaping strong legacies in the military would follow them into the growing world of female football.

Currently serving as a spokesperson for the Women’s Indoor Football League, Cara Vargas is also a member of the Washington Wildcats. Having also competed as a boxer, Vargas is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Having spent six years of active duty while another two were in the reserves, she is a hero in every sense of the word.

An experience at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri would make an impression on Vargas. Having taken action by pummeling a man that was looking to take advantage of a lady in the barracks, Vargas would show the type of leadership and bravery that makes for a character individual. While there were discussions of disciplinary action, a superior officer stood up for her noble action. It would set a precedent for other males at the Fort to treat the female members of the military with respect.

Having donned the Canadian jersey at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland, Annie Arpin has military roots dating back to before she would become one of the armored warriors for the IWFL’s Montreal Blitz. While Arpin is one of the pioneers helping to build a legacy of women’s football in the hockey-mad city of Montreal (where she has won IWFL Tier 1 and Tier 2 championships), she was part of the Maisonneuve Regiment reserves unit from 1993 to 2000. Of note, she would also see military duty in 1996, travelling to Bosnia as an infantryman.

Arpin in action with the Montreal Blitz (Image obtained from: http://www.larevue.qc.ca/sports_football-au-feminin-n18611.php)
Arpin in action with the Montreal Blitz (Image obtained from: http://www.larevue.qc.ca/sports_football-au-feminin-n18611.php)

In addition, Arpin was not the only member of the Canadian contingent to have military ties. Cheryl O’Leary, a player-coach with the Capital Area Lady Gladiators of the Maritime Women’s Football League served as a mentor coach on Team Canada. Of note, her husband and son are both members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

On the topic of builders, a pair of women looking to establish women’s football in the American heartland of Iowa also saw their share of duty overseas. The defunct Des Moines Courage were not only the first women’s football franchise in the state, but their founder (and occasional player) Tammy Campos would serve in Iraq. Although she was stationed west of Baghdad, she would call her teammates every Saturday night to see how the team fared in their weekend contests.

In the aftermath of the Courage, former player Jennifer Hirakawa would help form the Iowa Crush. Having grown up in Ewa Beach, Hawaii and attended the Academy of the Pacific (where she played volleyball, softball and basketball), it is ironic that she would one day lay the foundation for women’s football in Iowa.

Having first enlisted in the Army in 1990, she would retire with the rank of Master Sergeant in 2012 from the Iowa Army National Guard. While she was a competitive softball player who competed on various military teams, she would first play female football in Berlin, Germany for the Berlin Adler Girls. While she would become the first competitor in Women’s Football Alliance history to post 20 sacks in an 8 game season, she would be deployed to the Middle East in 2009.

Master Sergeant Hirakawa would serve as one of the first superstars in Iowa women's football
Master Sergeant Hirakawa would serve as one of the first superstars in Iowa women’s football

The WFA would have another proud member of the military shape its proud history. Kristin Love served as the division officer for the Patient Administration Department at the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton. When not serving as a lieutenant with the Marine Corps, Love could be seen on the gridiron competing as a defensive back with the San Diego Surge.

Upon discovering that her camp did not have a women’s flag football team, Love would not only find a spot on the Surge roster, but she would play in the squad’s inaugural game. Donning number 19 with the Surge, she would be part of another historic chapter with the franchise. In 2012, the Surge won the WFA National Championship. Contested at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, it was the first women’s football game ever contested at an NFL stadium.

A systems engineer with the Missile Defense Agency, Shawn Bailey would have her own connection to football in California. Having studied at the University of Southern California, she would be part of the school’s fan culture for its football team.

While she would play softball, soccer and women’s lacrosse, the opportunity to play football would present itself at a peculiar time. As the mother of a pre-teen son playing flag football, a suggestion was made to have an exhibition game between the boys and their moms. After the adrenaline of competing in said game, Bailey found an ad on social media for the Pikes Peak Storm of the Foxy Football League.

Although Bailey was 38 at the time, she would not only make the team, but she would part of their transition from the Foxy Football League to the IWFL. Rechristened as the Colorado Sting, Bailey would travel to Round Rock, Texas to compete in the Tier 3 IWFL Championship Game in July 2012. Ironically, Arpin of the Montreal Blitz was also in Round Rock as her squad captured the Tier 1 title. As a side note, one of Bailey’s coaches, Oscar Loveless also has ties to the military; serving as a Tech. Sergeant in the 50th Civil Engineering Squadron NCO.

Stationed out of Virginia, Erin Alyssa Stewart would make the 90-minute journey to Baltimore, Maryland in order to compete for the Legends Football League. Originally, she had plans to try out for the Chicago Bliss franchise but her transfer to Virginia altered her plans. Having played with the Baltimore Charm in 2011 (of note, Vargas would try out for the team in 2012), she was offered a roster spot after the first day that she tried out with the team.

Erin Alyssa Stewart practicing with the Baltimore Charm
Erin Alyssa Stewart practicing with the Baltimore Charm

Having graduated from Chicago Military Academy Bronzeville, she would earn a Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration. With her father having served in the Army, she would proudly follow in his footsteps. Becoming a member of the military in 2008, she also has a brother in the Marines and a sister in the US Army reserves.

The unique mosaic of women’s football weaves a remarkable tapestry filled with diversity, perseverance and a true sense of teamwork. Those are the same values that help to shape the core of today’s brave soldiers, women and men in today’s military. While not all female football players with military service could be recognized, their contributions to preserving our way of life and protecting our borders helps to ensure that the future of women’s football is one that will continue to shine brightly.


Hard-hitting Julie Oleson a rough and tumble competitor in women’s football

As it says on her Twitter account, she is here to make pretty girls ugly. A tough as nails, no-nonsense athlete, she was poised to serve as one of the stalwarts for the defensive unit of the Baltimore Blitz. More than an athlete, she was also a regional spokesperson for the Women’s Indoor Football League, helping to grow awareness for what promised to be an exciting new chapter in the budding sport.

Photo credit: Michael Key
Photo credit: Michael Key

Recognized by the Washington Blade as the best amateur athlete in 2012, Julie Oleson is a superb athlete with a background in volleyball. Having competed with Limestone College Saints on their volleyball program, she set several program records. Her game-day 44 digs on 11/4/05 is the Saints program record. Additional digs of 40, 39 and 37 in game play rank third to fifth on the list. Her 6 aces in one game, accomplished on 10/10/06 is also one of the greatest performances in program history. With the Limestone Saints, she has also earned First and Second Team All-CVAC Honors. Of note, Oleson also graduated from Marymount University in later years.

During 2013, Oleson’s athletic skills were showcased on a larger stage. Playing with the Baltimore Charm in the Legends Football League, she pulled double duty on the offensive and defensive line. Her season would culminate in a postseason berth, while statistically, she registered 5 solo tackles, 6 total stops and one interception with eight return yards.

No longer with the WIFL, Oleson could have been part of a renaissance in the Beltway as both Baltimore and Washington proudly represent the capital region. Having joined Oleson for play in the WIFL was Amber Wilson. Also committed as a WIFL Regional Spokesperson, she was a former competitor with the Las Vegas Sin in the Legends Football League. Wilson finished her 2013 season with four takcles in two games played, while attempting to lead her club to a postseason berth.

With the Washington Wildcats featuring a multi-sport star in Cara Vargas, it had the makings of a great rivalry because Vargas is familiar to Oleson. Both attended Baltimore’s training camp in late 2012. The two were also interviewed together in promotional material covering the WIFL.

While the future in football is unsure for Oleson, her work ethic and dedication to performance and fitness would have set the gold standard for the Blitz. As a multi-talented athlete, fans are hoping that Oleson will grace the gridiron once more.

Former boxer Cara Vargas ready to thump the competition in the WIFL

As the Washington Wildcats look to shape their roster for their inaugural season in the Women’s Indoor Football League, a key building block on their defense is Cara Vargas. The 31-year old from Alexandria, Virginia is more than just an athlete; she is also a WIFL Representative. Born in Cincinnati and raised in Orlando, she is a well-travelled individual who has now laid roots in the nation’s capital region. Her father, John Fogarty is a published horror author who raised her and taught her how to be strong.

Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/CaraVargasAthlete
Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/CaraVargasAthlete

Projected to compete on the defensive line, she may also pull double duty on the offensive line, protecting highly touted quarterback acquisition Tia Knipper. Cara Vargas had been at the training camp for Baltimore in another league during late 2012 and early 2013. Pencilled in at Offensive and Defensive Line, she was also part of the club’s Meet and Greet event during a Super Bowl viewing party at the Baltimore Power Plant.

Of note, Vargas is also a former middleweight boxer and a Maryland Golden Gloves champion in 2010. In 2010, she was in the 178 pound weight class in the Washington Golden Gloves female boxing. She was part of the Old School Boxing Team which won the overall team trophy as they had seven champions at the Golden Gloves tournament.

Vargas had so much promise as an amateur pugilist that she even participated in the Road to London fight series where she fought the likes of Tori Nelson and Kaelan Hollon in the hopes of qualifying for the London 2012 Summer Games.

Employed as a personal trainer, she has also been involved in acting, doing stunt work on local film productions. Her most recently complete film includes Second World 3: Nightfall. Having also worked as a fitness model and personal trainer, this phenomenal athlete also has experience in martial arts such as Hapkido and Chayon-Ryu.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Vargas’ background is the one in service to her country. Vargas was a member of the United States Air Force, having served as an Engineering Technician in the Civil Engineering Squadron. Having left military in 2007, Vargas has embraced the athletic life with a sense of adventure.

While fans anxiously wait for her to grace the gridiron, Vargas holds the potential to become one of the brand names of women’s football. As the sport continues to grow, athletes like Vargas and the rest of the women in the WIFL prove it is one truly worthy of respect and recognition.

Courtney Larsen part of first sister act in ambitious WIFL

A love of sport is a shared one between Courtney and Maegan Larsen. Having played together in 2013 with Philadelphia in another league, this dynamic duo hopes to light up scoreboards in the WIFL. Having grown up in New Jersey, they have the choice of several franchises to play with, including the New Jersey Vipers, the New York Knighthawks or the Philadelphia Breeze.

In action with Prairie View A&M (Photo by Cheryl Vorhis, Obtained from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21155527@N03/5549017940/)
In action with Prairie View A&M (Photo by Cheryl Vorhis, Obtained from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21155527@N03/5549017940/)

Their greatest legacy in Philadelphia was their commitment to teamwork by willing to play at positions they were not accustomed to. While Maegan was a quarterback in the IWFL and Courtney is more comfortable at the wide receiver position, both found themselves on the defensive side of the ball.
Competing in limited action for Philadelphia, Courtney managed a respectable 9 total tackles, including a forced fumble. The display of versatility will help make her a dependable player in the WIFL with a stronger understanding on how to read opposing defenses.

Like her sister Meagan, she was also a two-sport star. While Maegan made her mark on the diamond as a successful softball player, Courtney competed on the hardcourt. At Carteret High School, she eclipsed the 1,000 point barrier, while also sandwiching in time with the AAU with the Jersey Shore Wildcats.

Having also played basketball at the NCAA level, Courtney had several stops along the way. The first stop in her collegiate journey was with the New Hampshire Wildcats. Joining the program for the 2007-08 campaign, she made five starts but ranked third on the club with 10 three-pointers. She would average 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in her first and only season with the program.

As a sophomore, she helped Union County College of NJCAA Division II. Averaging 8.3 points per game, she helped the club to a 26-1 mark while grabbing the Region XIX title. Her last stop would be the Prairie View A&M Panthers. Competing at the point guard position, she displayed tenacity in her junior season as the only player to compete in every game. She led the club with 76 assists along with a team-best 38 percent in three-point shooting percentage.

With the opportunity to play at their natural positions, they may prove to be the most cerebral quarterback to wide receiver combination in the WIFL, living up to their moniker Touchdown Twins. Possibly a handful for opposing defenses, the heralded arrival of Courtney and Maegan Larsen adds an element of excitement to the budding league.

Maegan Larsen emerging as another exciting member of WIFL’s quarterback club

A solid quarterback with great fundamentals, Meagan Larsen is part of the growing number of women now calling the Women’s Indoor Football League home. Having shared quarterback duties with Cristy Bell as a member of the Philadelphia franchise in another league, her contributions were essential.


With Philadelphia reaching their third consecutive league title game in 2013, Larsen was a key contributor. Employing a team-first approach, Larsen also pulled double duty on defense. Tough as nails, Larsen logged an astounding 26 total tackles, including 21 solo efforts (only Crystal Gisbon had more solo tackles on Philadelphia).

In a June 15 game versus the Jacksonville Breeze, there were serious playoff implications as opposing Jacksonville had a stake in the playoff race. Despite the high tension, Larsen rose to the occasion.

Contested at PPL Park, the hometown crowd was treated to a remarkable display. In the third quarter, she tied the game on a touchdown run, while following up with a direct snap that would result in a one-point conversion for a 14-13 lead.

After the squad extended their lead in the fourth, Larsen pounded in another conversion. With Jacksonville looking to regain the lead, it would prove to be Larsen’s finest hour. On fourth and goal, with the season on the line, superb Saige Steinmetz was knocked out of bounds by Larsen.

Other heroics were also part of her season. A 33-26 win over Cleveland on July 28 resulted in Larsen lining up at quarterback in the fourth quarter and scoring the game winning touchdown on a 14-yard rush.

Of note, her 26 total tackles ranked third among league competitors. Complemented by one interception and one forced fumble, she provided her team with an opportunity to succeed in every game.

When not lining up behind center, Larsen managed to contribute in other ways on offense. Of note, she logged 49 rushing yards along with two scores. Perhaps more impressive was her versatility as a receiver. Averaging 12.4 yards per catch, she would also find the end zone three times during the campaign.

By season’s end, she was Philadelphia’s second leading rusher and top ranked receiver, respectively. Her rushing prowess should prove her well in the WIFL as she may become one of the circuit’s scramblers. Although she made only six passing attempts during the 2013 season, she compiled one touchdown pass (a 35-yard TD pass to Lauren LaBella in the league title game) and a healthy 166.6 passer rating.

Prior to gracing the gridiron, Larsen had a strong showing as a softball player. Competing for the University at Albany Great Danes program in the America East Conference, she was named Conference Rookie of the Year, also garnering All-Rookie and First-Team All-Star honors. As a freshman, she played in all 40 games, leading the club with a .314 average, while racking up nine doubles and 23 RBI’s, respectively.

Her credentials as a football player will help build a foundation of strong talent in the WIFL. In addition to her time with Philadelphia, she was also a quarterback in the IWFL with the now-defunct Jersey Justice. In 2009, she helped the squad clinch a playoff berth with a 76-yard touchdown run and four TD passes in a win over the Erie Illusion. She led the squad to a 6-4 overall record, including a postseason berth.

Enriching her experience in the WIFL shall be the accompaniment of her sister Courtney. Having also played with her the past season in Philadelphia (where she accumulated 9 total tackles), the two are known affectionately as the “Touchdown Twins”. As the first pair of sisters to officially commit to the budding league, they have already made history. Although they have not decided which club they shall suit up for, they are destined to become fan favorites wherever they land.

Melanie Newman the newest member to the growing WIFL family

As the Women’s Indoor Football League puts the pieces in place for a strong beginning, Melanie Newman is on-board as a member of the media team. Projected as the league’s sideline reporter, she brings significant experience in sports coverage to the position.

Recognized as Troy University’s Woman of the Year in 2012, she has emerged as a model citizen in her community. Along with her coverage of Troy Trojans athletics in the Atlantic Sun Conference, she has also been involved with Sun Belt Conference softball and NASCAR Kinetics in Motion in which she conducted case studies and hosted an official NASCAR viewing party.

Image by Kevin Lanier
Image by Kevin Lanier

For anyone who is assuming that she is just eye candy, think again. Newman has paid her dues and earned her shot. She was a stage manager for ESPN during the ASC Baseball Championships. At Troy, she assisted the play-by-play production crew for football along with serving as an assistant in live statistics for the Sports Information Division at Troy. In addition, she produced and directed her own programs which were broadcast on YouTube.

Hailing from Woodstock, Georgia, her academic history is equally impressive. She was part of the Chancellor’s Capstone Leadership Students group at Troy University, along with a member of Alpha Epsilon Rho (broadcast journalism honors fraternity).

Of note, she is also a beauty queen. Having won the USA Petite Miss pageant, she will compete at the Miss Universal Petite in June 2014. She was also selected as Miss Troy 2013, which qualified her to compete in the Miss Alabama pageant. For that event, she would earn a top 10 finish.

With the WIFL holding its league tryouts in various cities on the Eastern seaboard, Newman will be on-hand to cover them. Fans can also expect to see her conduct pre and post game coverage once the inaugural season goes underway.

Based on the in-roads that women such as Erin Andrews, Jamie Maggio, Pam Oliver and Nicole Zaloumis have made in recent years, the world of tackle football is littered with great stories of breaking barriers. As the WIFL continues the proud legacy of women getting the opportunity to grace the gridiron, Newman brings a credible and articulate presence that embodies the spirit and drive of the budding league.

Tia Knipper ready for her close up as one of the faces of the WIFL

As the Women’s Indoor Football League evaluates talent and looks to fill its various rosters, the quarterback position remains the key for the success of every franchise. The Washington Wildcats may have done more than just find their starting quarterback, but quite possibly the face of the league.

Tia Knipper gives the Wildcats an opportunity to emerge as strong postseason contenders. Measuring in at 5’7”, her rocket arm should wow the WIFL fans. Her first foray into football came when she competed in boys football in junior high school.

Image obtained from Facebook
Image obtained from Facebook

Originally signed by the Fayetteville Fighters, her rights were traded to the Wildcats when Fayetteville opted to launch only in 2015. With former Gold Gloves boxer Cara Vargas as the anchor of Washington’s defense, Knipper brings stability to the offensive side of the ball.

During 2013, Knipper played with a franchise from Cleveland in another football league. In three games played, she would log 156 passing yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. In addition, her 136.9 passer rating would lead her team. The highlight of her season came when she logged a touchdown pass in the first victory in Cleveland franchise history, a 12-0 shutout against Omaha.

Having grown up in Garrettsville, Ohio, she is also involved in veterinary cardiology. With a background in soccer, softball and track, she is a well-rounded athlete with a desire to succeed. Accustomed to leadership roles, as she was a team captain in various high school sports, she is not afraid of being vocal. Such enthusiasm should prove to be infectious within the Wildcats.