Mon July 6, 2009
Women's Full Contact Football
Kansas City, MO – If you're taking a walk through Gillham Park on a Thursday evening you might stumble across what looks a little like a high school football practice.
Complete with cracking helmets, conditioning drills and a coach who's less than pleased. But as helmets come off for a quick water break you might find yourself feeling a little surprised by the sight of twenty or so women donning full football pads.
This is the Kansas City Tribe, one of the city's two semipro women's football teams.
If you're just going by wins and losses, the 20 or so players milling around this small set of bleachers make up what is arguably the city's best team.
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Oh, and in case you're wondering, the answer is no - they don't play any powder puff variety of the game. This is full on tackle football and players have scars to prove it.
All-star running back Megan Penrod proudly shows off a half dollar-sized raspberry on her forearm.
"I was making a tackle and the last team we played had a turf field," she says. "There's like this rubber in the field and it just eats your skin up. Sometimes they're like war wounds, I'm proud of them."
Penrod doesn't hide nicks that are part and parcel for a violent game, even though she often has to field questions about whether she's a victim of domestic abuse. Players say the bumps and bruises are a small price to pay for a chance to buckle chin straps and fasten shoulder pads.
An attorney by day, the team's co-owner Mindy White says perceptions about the visible toll of the game sometimes follow her into the courtroom.
"I've had judges when I'm in court," White says. I've had jurors, I've had a number of people stop and do a double take and the explanation always gets the same blank stare, I didn't know women played football.'"
It's a shared experience, those funny looks and questions, but white says skepticism often turns to respect once people actually make it to a game.
That's what keeps players coming back, a sense of empowerment coupled with team camaraderie.
Women's full contact football in America started out in the seventies, when grass roots teams went on regional tours. Interest waned in the eighties then up ticked again in the late nineties. In this decade the sport has come into its own, sprouting two competitive leagues.
The Tribe is in the Independent Women's Football League, or IWFL, which has more than fifty teams spread across the lower forty eight and into Canada.
But it's not all about what happens on the field. White also wants to pass on her passion for the game to a younger generation.
"You know my niece came and she was a ball girl for the last game. She had two of her little friends there, they're 11 years old." White says. "Just the looks on their faces, just the admiration that they had to see so many people out there supporting women in a sport that's been so traditionally reserved for men."
"The little boys, the respect we get from them is incredible," she says.
For Yolanda Ramirez the respect she's earned as an offensive and defensive tackle translates to her workplace.
"I mean before I wasn't you know, like I said I was very shy," Ramirez says. "Now if she approaches me I can you sit there and talk to her more."
The team is going to need a steely resolve. At this practice the Tribe is prepping for their first round playoff game against the undefeated L.A. Amazons.
They'll go on to beat the Amazon, earning the team another home playoff gave against the Chicago force at Center High School on July 11th.
The team went on to beat the Amazons, earning a home playoff game at Center High School on July, 11. If they win, the team will advance to the championship game in Round Rock Texas on July, 25.