A member of the Moncton Vipers since their inaugural season in 2005, Jenny Miller is the face of the franchise. Her dedication and perseverance to the game are legendary. The hard work and sacrifice not only helped transform the Vipers into a championship team, but helped establish a foundation for the Maritime Women’s Football League.
Having grown up in an athletic family, her love for football was cultivated by the impact of her brother and stepfather.
“I grew up in a very sports-oriented family. I was always involved in many high-level competitive sports. My younger brother was a star quarterback in high school and he was fortunate enough to be coached by my stepfather throughout his football career.”
“It never crossed my mind that tackle football would be available for women. My family is very involved with the local minor football association, and through that link it was brought up that a new women's league was being attempted.”
Once the Moncton Vipers became a reality, the opportunity to compete on the gridiron became the culmination of a lifelong dream. With the help of her stepfather assuming coaching duties, Miller had the opportunity to learn about the game like her brother did.
“With the help of the Moncton Football Association, and the new Maritime Women's Football League, the Vipers team was formed. My stepfather helped coach the team for a few years and it was rewarding being able to learn from him just as my brother did. It has been so fulfilling being able to play this sport. Football is more than an interest, it is a passion. I am very thankful for the opportunities football has provided me.”
In Miller’s storied career, the 2012 MWFL season may have been her finest. While she led the Vipers to a high scoring, 49-42 upset over the Capital Area Lady Gladiators in SupHer Bowl IX (the name of the MWFL championship game), her contributions off the field may have been greater.
During the season, Miller was more than just the starting quarterback. She also served as the Vipers' acting head coach. Preaching patience in her coaching role, the result paid remarkable dividends.
“There was confusion about me being head coach. We had some turnover in the coaching department from the 2011 season. As I was attempting to manage the team, I realized early on that the talent we had was exemplary.”
“From the beginning, I knew we had the team that could win it all. Physically and mentally, there is little difference from the men’s game. We hit as hard and play just like they do. Yet there is a different dynamic on the women's side of things.”
The one common ground that the MWFL shares with fellow league, the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, is the fact that many women join the league as novice players. Although all the women in Canadian women’s tackle football are exceptional athletes, the learning curve that comes with learning to play (and teaching) tackle football can be an adjustment for both the novice and established player.
“Many women come into this sport with little to no knowledge of tackle football. Each year we start over from scratch as we need to teach simple basics first. Most coaches coming in are men who have lived and breathed football all their lives.”
“For the team we had, it wasn't good enough to just have someone stand in as a coach. We needed more than just someone with a title. We did have some great positional coaches at the time, but there was no need to name a head coach. I was placed as acting head coach only to fill the position. That is to clarify that situation.”
Despite her humble approach to the position, it was a position that needed to be filled by someone who commanded the respect of those throughout the organization. Miller was the right person for the job, and the championship ending to their season was testament to the qualities of leadership that she extolled throughout.
In reflecting on the emotional victory over the Lady Gladiators (a team led by seven-time All-Star quarterback Alex Black), Miller is quick to share the credit.
“In 2012, we knew we could win. It all came down to teamwork and dedication. We were able to get great numbers to practice and we could work on the things that we needed to solidify.”
“It was a team effort and truly one of the most intense and gratifying wins I have ever experienced in my years of playing. Having just come back from a torn MCL from the previous year, the win meant a lot. Quarterbacking that team was a testament to the trust and character of each player on the field. We accomplished our goal and were proud to say we worked hard for it.”
As the 2013 season marks the 10th anniversary of the MWFL, it is a great point of pride for Miller to be competing. As the only player left from Moncton’s inaugural roster during the expansion season of 2005, she is a living link to an earlier time in the franchise’s history.
“I am the only remaining player from the first team in 2005. It has been such a rewarding experience. I have been fortunate enough to also be part of the MWFL executive now for a few years, and the work that goes into making this league so great is astonishing.”
“I have a deep appreciation for the dedication of the women and volunteers that make the league and the teams happen. Looking back over the years, we have come a long way. Many do not realize that we began as a league playing eight-(wo)man football on a condensed field.”
As the MWFL continues to grow in terms of popularity, sponsorship and overall awareness, so, too, does the quality of play in the league. While the athletic abilities of the women in the MWFL are undisputed, Miller sees the league’s milestone anniversary season as an opportunity to celebrate.
“Today we are playing almost at par with the men's rules, and the caliber of the game is exceptional. I am more than proud to be part of this league. The 10th anniversary is more than just a celebration of our accomplishments. We have achieved more for gender equality in sports and being able to showcase women's tackle football to those who may not believe it can be done.”
“The women's game is hard-hitting and exciting. It will only get better as girls will be able to participate at younger ages through the Junior Girls provincial feeder programs. So 10 years is a great feat, but what has been accomplished in these past 10 years is what needs to be celebrated. MWFL—Canada's first.”
In addition to her presence with the Vipers and her work with the MWFL’s executive, Miller had the opportunity to participate in another unique event. Football Canada hosted the 2012 National Challenge Cup in Laval, Quebec.
The event featured provincial teams from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and an All-Star team from the Atlantic provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
As a member of Team Atlantic, Miller had the opportunity to play with competitors from the other franchises in the MWFL. In addition, the coaches from various MWFL franchises also served on Team Atlantic’s coaching staff.
With a team that consisted of so many MWFL stars, the event was one that brought Miller tremendous personal and professional reward. It also provided the rare opportunity to call many rivals from the MWFL teammates.
“Playing with Team Atlantic was an experience I will cherish forever. Having only played against women from the MWFL for years, it was a great change to all put on the same color jersey and work together to see what the rest of Canada was capable of.”
“The Team Atlantic roster came together so well. We gelled as a team and played some amazing football. Each player on that team made me a better player. The chance to learn from new coaches and really test our skills was so satisfying.”
“Each day was a new challenge, and the gratification of playing against women that I knew would be playing for Team Canada just blew my mind. These are Canada's top players, and the opportunity to be on the same field as them was phenomenal. From that experience, I made lifelong friendships and was able to experience the game at a new level. It is a program that I hope they continue in the future.”
Although women’s tackle football is not yet part of the general Canadian sporting conversation, the efforts of the amazing women in both the MWFL and WWCFL is helping to shatter those barriers and misconceptions.
As a pioneer in the sport, Miller understands that the next generation of women’s football stars is on the horizon. In asking Miller what advice she had for girls looking to play football, she proudly proclaimed, “Get involved. Right now the opportunities for girls are starting to open up. There are two leagues in Canada now playing high-level tackle football. What keeps most women away is the fear of not knowing the game.”
“It looks rough and tough, but there is more to it than that. There are positions for all body types and athletic abilities. You will be taught how to play safely, and once you get out there and face that fear, I promise you will be hooked. Don't deny yourself the experience because we have always been told that women can't play. Push your boundaries and prove to yourself that you are capable. You will be glad you did.”
“All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated”