Having experienced football at all levels, Lisa Cummings is working to ensure that women’s tackle football has a long and prosperous future in Manitoba. As an inaugural member of the Manitoba Fearless, Cummings has transformed her love of the game into an effort to educate and inspire.
As a 32-year-old rookie, her initial involvement with the Manitoba Fearless came at the suggestion of a friend. In becoming involved with the franchise, she would find a kindred spirit in Tannis Wilson, another dedicated individual that is helping to build the women’s game.
“A co-worker who knew I loved football cut out an ad in the Winnipeg Free Press calling for women to come try football. I emailed Tannis, wondering if there was an age limit—I was 32 at the time. Well, I had no idea that players would be from all ages, backgrounds, and sport experience.
“I played (on the) offensive line the first year and quickly became friends with Tannis and started to get involved in the program from all levels. Upon retiring from the game, I became the full-time team manager to keep involved in the team.”
In addition to her tireless work with the Fearless, Cummings also helped form the Manitoba Girls Football Association. Part of the motivation stemmed from ensuring that younger players had the opportunities that were not available to her in her youth.
“I always wanted to play football as a child. I even asked my parents, but they didn't think it was very ladylike (laughs). Waiting until I was 32 to get to play, I did not get many years in until my body decided it was time for me to retire.
“Tannis Wilson and I spoke so many times about how we wish we had the opportunity (to play) at a younger age. So we decided to make it happen. Plus, my daughter, who was eight, was a huge motivating factor. I never wanted her to be told she could not play a sport because she was a girl. It was a very proud moment when she was able to play in year one. She still loves the game and is going into her third year playing centre (smiles).”
Her devotion to the sport has resulted in an opportunity to serve as a mentor coach with the Canadian National Team. As the Canadian contingent is looking to claim its first ever gold medal at the Women’s Tackle Football Championships, it is a role that Cummings accepts with great pride.
"As a mentor coach with Team Canada, we spent a great deal of time observing and collecting data on the players in Montreal (during the 2012 National Cup). Throughout the winter, we had the opportunity to perform assignments to better our coaching knowledge.”
Having also worked at tryouts for players from Eastern and Western Canada, the opportunity provided Cummings with great growth as a coach. Ironically, Cummings would also find herself mentored.
“As a unit coach, I do not get much opportunity to step outside of my role and plan practices for high-level teams. That was one of my favorite assignments. Moving into the East and West tryouts, we were given the opportunity to pair up with coaches and broaden our knowledge of the game.
“I selected to learn from Craig Bachynski, as he was assessing the defensive backs, a part of the defence that I really was not as familiar with as I would like. It really was a great opportunity to have our thoughts on the selection process heard.”
Coaching at the youth level is another aspect to Cummings' impressive football portfolio. With her son playing on the Winnipeg Nomads Pee-Wee team, there was a true sense of family within the team’s culture. Cummings served on the coaching staff of her son’s team that grabbed the 2012 championship.
“The Pee-Wee championship was a very proud moment. I was asked to coach when my son was playing Atom-level football. I have grown as a coach as my players are growing up. As we have had the same kids on our team from as young as terminator level, together we are like a family.
“The boys had really worked hard over the years, getting closer to championship each year. Making it through the regular season with zero points against was amazing. Then making it all the way to championship (in 2012) was the best way to end the season.”
While Cummings (and Tannis Wilson) has carved a great legacy as a builder of women’s football in Manitoba, her son’s championship was an exceptional point of pride. As it was the first championship for mother and son, the experience brought with it a lifetime of memories.
“Just making it there was an accomplishment, but to actually have my boys win...words can't describe the feeling. Honestly, I am not sure how many moms have had the feeling I had when we won. My son plays on my defensive line. When we won, I was able to be part of this once in a lifetime moment that I don't think many moms get a chance to be part of.”
When the WWCFL became a reality in 2011, Cummings had a unique involvement. She proudly served on the inaugural WWCFL board. In asking what the challenges were in the first season, she replied, “What were the league’s challenges at that time? It was a great deal of work getting the league going. Luckily, the executive was very like-minded for the most part, and we did do a great deal of work to try and ensure the league would be something that could grow for the future.”
While every league occasionally struggles with personal interests, compromises and the balance of power between franchises, Cummings handled the growing pains of the WWCFL with character. Extolling all the qualities of a leader, Cummings dedication embodies the pioneering spirit of the WWCFL.
“As in every league and sport, the politics that goes along with it can be frustrating at times. Knowing you are doing what is best for the growth of the league makes it worth it. There was a great deal of challenges in getting everyone to remember we are growing a league and our personal team affiliations are not No. 1. Plus, having some teams on different levels made it a challenge.
“The WWCFL teams have a great deal of differences. Some receive a great deal of support from their provinces and some none. Some teams have a lot of players, some struggle to get a team on the field. Yet, I am confident that the work the inaugural board did is what shaped the league and allowed the growth it has today.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”