As the Regina Riot look to finish the 2013 season as Western Women’s Canadian Football League champions, the squad has a fresh infusion of rookie talent eager to make that dream a reality. Wide receiver Kari Anne Klassen is a remarkable rookie who brings great enthusiasm to the gridiron for a Riot franchise that has enjoyed a first-place start to the season.
Having grown up in British Columbia and Alberta, Klassen was not raised in the football-mad province of Saskatchewan. Klassen’s athletic background included other sports such as basketball. The interest in football did not germinate until a visit to Regina’s offseason training camp.
“Honestly, I never had any great interest in football until I came to the Riot’s October 2012 camp. I might have been a bit jealous of my brother when he played for a bit as a teenager, but it was the early 90s and girls did not really play football.”
“My dad loves the NFL, but I was more into basketball, which I played in high school, along with volleyball. I didn’t move to Saskatchewan until the eighth grade. I lived in BC and Alberta before that, so I was not really raised with a love for football that seems to come along with being born here.”
“I have been to Saskatchewan Roughriders games, and watched games on TV from time to time, but it was never really a huge part of my life.”
An encounter with Riot starting quarterback Aimee Kowalski planted the seed toward giving football consideration. Kowalski is one of the leaders of the Riot and was named to the Canadian national team that will compete in the 2013 Women’s Tackle Football Championships.
“In September last year, I went to a couple personal training sessions with Aimee Kowalski, and she invited me to check out the camp. I had never heard of any other women’s football team in town, and that’s just not my style. I was super nervous and I had no idea what to think.”
Klassen would soon discover that the team culture of the Riot was one built on collaboration and respect. It was those elements, along with the thrill of the game, that would make her decide to pursue the possibility of suiting up for the franchise in 2013.
“At the camp, the Riot helped suit all the newbie’s up in gear and sent us out on the field. It was a full day of hard work, but from the first time I tackled someone, I was hooked.”
“The Riot ladies made everyone feel welcome and were great at explaining what to do in the different positions. I left Mosaic Stadium that day with a huge grin on my face and could not wait to start training with the team. It was a great experience, and I can’t wait to be part of the next camp as a vet.”
Having been away from basketball for several years, the return to athletic competition has yielded positive results for Klassen. As a first-year player, the camaraderie and strong feeling of family serves as one of the factors that she has enjoyed most about the Riot.
“I think what I’ve enjoyed the most is being part of a team again. I missed that, I didn’t realize how much. I think I enjoy it even more now as an adult, than I ever did as a teen.”
“It’s a great group of women, and it’s something I never really thought was an option for me at my age; to be a part of a competitive team with awesome athletes who work so hard to be the best. Any day of the week, there’s always something football related going on, people to hang out with, work out with and talk to.”
“I felt welcome right from the first practice I went to in January. They do a great job of making the rookies feel included, and that’s important. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but Aimee had told me the team was like a family, and it does feel that way.”
“I’m the only one of my family left in Saskatchewan, so it’s awesome. I feel like I have this massive new family, I get to be competitive and hit people. I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of years to get into the best shape of my life, and it’s so cool that I can use my abilities to be part of this team.”
A unique aspect about Klassen is the collection of tattoos that adorns her physique. Of all the tattoos, there is one that holds special meaning for her. On her left arm, there is a tattoo of a bottle of Heinz ketchup. Klassen explains its special meaning and strong personal importance.
“I think I am definitely in the running for being one of the most tattooed on the team, and I have a few that bring on the questions. My ketchup bottle is the one that results in the most curiosity. It is one of my favorites, and no, I am not a massive ketchup fan. I mean, I like it, but I would not be sad if I could not have it anymore.”
“The tattoo is actually a tribute to one of my best friends who passed away three-and-a-half years ago. She put ketchup on everything. Maybe not on dessert, but there was a recipe for a ketchup cake that she wanted to make. When I say everything, I mean she would complain because they did not have ketchup at the Thai restaurant we would often go to.”
“She would keep packets in her purse, and I used to keep a bottle of it at my house specifically for her. It could not just be any ketchup; it had to be Heinz, no question. Her dad used to try trick her by putting no name brands in the Heinz bottles, but she always knew. It came as no surprise to her family that I chose that image as a tribute.”
During Klassen’s inaugural season with the Riot, one moment provides great pride for her. As the rival Saskatoon Valkyries had never lost a game in franchise history, it was a breakthrough moment when the Riot handed them their first defeat. As the Valkyries are the two-time defending champions, the win made a remarkable statement.
“That first win against Saskatoon was huge in terms of confidence and proving to ourselves that the ability to be the best is there. We were going up against a team that’s never been beaten, and I think we knew we could do it once we got the nerves out.”
“We’ve trained hard for that moment, and the feeling at the end of the game was amazing, nothing by smiles. I feel like the next game against Saskatoon will be even more intense, because I’m sure Saskatoon will be working very hard over the next week to shut us down. We’ll be working hard too, though.”
With the Riot having made a monumental first step by beating Saskatoon, the proud franchise wants to continue the momentum. As Regina is the host city for the 2013 WWCFL Championship, Klassen explains what it will take to win a championship,
“We have been training together since January. Every practice and game is always about the next step. What we are doing right, what can we change, what can we do better, how do we keep that momentum going.”
“Right now, I think we need to focus on the next step and not get too far ahead of ourselves. We need to stick together as a team and be the best in our positions. We need to believe we can do it. We’re hosting the championship this year, and I think everyone on the team is going to do everything they can to make sure we’re playing in that game.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.