With 2013 marking the third season of competition for the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, a feeling of optimism is prevalent.
As the league expands to nine teams (new franchises include the Grande Prairie Northern Anarchy and the Okotoks Lady Outlawz), they now boast more franchises than the men’s Canadian Football League.
Erin Walton, one of the veteran leaders for the Calgary Rage, is very excited about the growth in the league. Named as a reserve member for the Canadian National Team that will be looking to capture the gold medal at the 2013 Women’s Tackle Football Championships, Walton is quick to acknowledge the quantum leap that the league has grown by.
“The WWCFL is maturing at a very fast pace and the quality of play has gotten better every year. Teams like Saskatoon and Regina really put the pressure on us to get better too, because we want to compete and be a team that can challenge for a championship every year.
“The league itself is growing and learning how to function together. It has worked very hard to put strong leadership, policy and bylaws in place to help all teams operate and continue to grow in a way that will not only benefit each team, but the league as a whole. This also greatly impacts the quality of the game.”
As a quarterback (and occasional running back) with the Calgary Rage, Erin Walton (who was part of the Canadian contingency that captured the silver medal at the 2010 Women’s Worlds) believes that the quality of play will improve in the third season. As the interest in the league grows, she is confident that recruiting top talent will only improve.
“Opportunities for player recruitment have also increased over the last couple of years and the WWCFL being a league has helped us recruit and continue to grow our team here in Calgary. The WWCFL is a legitimate league, we have great teams, people and organizations willing to put the work in to continue to grow and create success, and the improved quality of play every year certainly reflects that.”
Originally from Quebec, Annie Tremblay is one of several WWCFL stars named to the Canadian National Team for 2013. A defensive stalwart (Tremblay is a member of the defensive backfield for the Calgary Rage), she believes that interest in the league is sure to grow.
“More teams in the league means that more people know about us, the WWCFL. In three years of existence, we went from seven to nine teams. Every season we see new girls joining a team and more spectators to our game. It is a good sign that women’s tackle football is growing in Western Canada.”
One of the defining features of the league is the fact that many of the players are also mothers. Every franchise in the league features several players that are balancing the responsibilities of family, career and football. It is a feature that truly helps to embody the great spirit of character and perseverance in the budding league.
Sandy Dielissen, of the expansion Okotoks Lady Outlawz, describes the impact of motherhood in the league, saying, “With all of us now travelling down the same road, I think it has taught us all to respect each other and the game itself. Football is a lot of fun but it is a hard enduring game. I believe when we wear that "MOM" hat, we never fully realized just how TOUGH it really was. Now, we have switched hats, and we appreciate one another's hard work, dedication and commitment to the sport.”
Linebacker Kait DiNunzio, from the Calgary Rage, holds many hats in the WWCFL. While she is also one of many playing mothers, she is one of the WWCFL’s two-sport stars. While many athletes in the WWCFL have a track and field background (such as Alexa Matwyczuk and Jessie Buydens) or a basketball ground (like Marisa Kiselyk), DiNunzio is a competitive bodybuilder.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of DiNunzio is that she is certified in project management and conflict management. As one of the players that assist in the administration of the league, DiNunzio’s strong educational background has made her a leader on and off the field.
“There is a very natural pecking order in the culture of football; women’s football is certainly not exempt from that. I’m a pretty aggressive person and a natural leader in my personal/volunteer and professional life and this has been an adjustment for me. The one thing that my profession lends me is the ability to know when to speak and when to shut my mouth. I know what’s worth it and what’s not in a heated moment of conflict. I also know the value in recognizing the strengths in others and working to constructively support them or admit when I’m wrong.”
In every football league (male or female), the most well-known personalities are the quarterback. Edmonton has Kiki Simmons, who also pulls double-duty as team president. The Regina Riot has Aimee Kowalski, one of two pivots named to the Canadian National Team. Having played at the NCAA level in basketball and softball, Kowalski is a charismatic player with a strong drive to succeed.
While she reflects on some growing pains in the first two seasons, Kowalski is one of the proud players who is ready to lead the charge towards a league that will entertain and provide high quality football.
“The first two years that we were playing, they compared us to bantam boys. I do not really believe that this was a fair comparison because we are adult women. Our plays have advanced. Our play calling has advanced. The coaches are putting more responsibility on me for play progression, reading the field, calling my own plays. We're being coached by coaches who once played at professional levels so they are coaching us the way that they were used to being coached.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”