Growing up as a fan of the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders, Ashley Howatt had many great quarterbacks to look up to. From Doug Flutie to Jeff Garcia to Henry Burris, it was only natural that she would one day line up behind center. Competing with the Halifax Xplosion of the Maritime Women’s Football League, Howatt is working tirelessly to transform the club into one of championship caliber.
“I have always loved football! I grew up watching the CFL (go Stamps!) and would often go outside with the neighborhood boys to play catch, but that was the extent of my football experience.
“I played many sports growing up: basketball, soccer, rugby, softball, karate, track and field, but there was never a chance to play football. My high school did not even have a boy’s team. Playing football never crossed my mind until I read a story in the paper about the first women's tackle football team in Nova Scotia—the Halifax Xplosion! I knew that would be my chance to play and that is why I moved to Halifax (smiles).”
Having competed in the MWFL for the last five years, Howatt has emerged as one of the league’s stars. With this season marking the 10th anniversary of the league (the only women’s football league in Canada to have reached the milestone), her ability to compete in said league is one that is a great point of pride for the pivot.
“I am very proud to be a part of this amazing league. Not many girls have the opportunity (yet!) to play tackle football. So I feel much honored to have had the chance to play for the past five years.”
As a multiple MWFL All-Star selection on offense, it is testament to her ability. A consistent performer who provides her team with an opportunity to win, Howatt is very humble about her success. The ultimate team player, Howatt is quick to acknowledge that her success is part of the bigger picture.
“I am honored to have been chosen as an MWFL All-Star, but I am just a small part of a great team. Everyone has to do their part and do their job right; football is the definition of a team sport in my opinion.”
Like the goaltender in hockey or the pitcher in baseball, competing as a quarterback on the gridiron ranks as one of the most demanding and pressure-filled positions in all of sport. For Howatt, the pressure of the position reared its ugly head in her unexpected debut.
“I did not start off as quarterback (with the Xplosion). My first year, I was a slot-back receiver and a tight end in my second year...except for the last game [of the season]. When our starting quarterback told us she was not coming to the game, I was told that morning I was playing quarterback—now that was pressure (laughs)!”
Once Howatt grabbed the reins, she never looked back. Just like Lou Gehrig replacing Wally Pipp on the New York Yankees due to a headache, Howatt replacing her quarterback would be one of the most significant moves in franchise history.
Employing great maturity and acumen, Howatt understands the impact of her role on the performance of the team. She tackles the responsibility of being a quarterback and a leader with great candor.
“Honestly, though I do not let the pressure get to me, I think I would feel the same amount of nervousness and pressure in any position. I realize I have a lot of responsibility as quarterback, so it is on me to make sure I know what everyone is doing on every play and to keep a level head.
“I can be pretty hard on myself at times, but I have gotten better at this because I have realized that it does nothing to help me. I just need to learn from my mistakes and then brush them off and do better next time.”
As the sport of women’s football continues to grow throughout North America, the barriers in this once traditionally male-dominated sport are shattering. Like her peers in the MWFL and the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, Howatt is a pioneer in the sport. She offers the following advice to any women who are interested in playing the game:
“My advice would be to play if you have the opportunity! You will not know for sure if you love it until you try! Any type of football—if tackle football isn't an option, flag and touch are great as well.
“Ask your phys-ed teacher if there can be a football component in your class. Start an intramural flag football league (high school or university), buy a football and get anyone and everyone to play catch or have a game of touch football. Watch football! [Whether it be] CFL, NFL and/or live Atlantic University Sports games, you can learn a lot from watching the pros.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.