Michelle Young-Mather: A Living Legend in Maritime Women's Football

Mark StaffieriContributor IIJune 17, 2013

Wearing number 6, Young-Mather blocks an opponent from the Moncton Vipers (Image obtained from Facebook)
Wearing number 6, Young-Mather blocks an opponent from the Moncton Vipers (Image obtained from Facebook)

Michelle Young-Mather is one of the greatest players to have ever graced the gridiron in the Maritime Women’s Football League. A seven-time MWFL All-Star (tied with Alex Black for most nods), she has emerged as one of the first (and finest) superstars in the history of the league.

Competing with the Saint John Storm, she formed a fantastic friendship with Lisa Harlow. The two not only won three MWFL titles together, but were also teammates with the Canadian contingent at the 2010 IFAF Women’s Football Championships. With her husband, Jim Mather (and Lisa’s father Larry Harlow) on the Storm coaching staff, the strong bonds of family are unbreakable. 

Although she will be celebrating her 39th birthday at the end of June, she has the energy and enthusiasm of a woman half her age. Perhaps more impressive, is the fact that she only began competing in female football at the age of 30. Of note, it was her husband who introduced her to the sport.

“I started playing touch football for about 20 years which began with my mother asking me to fill in on her team. Tackle football came from my husband (Jim Mather) and I both wanting a new challenge. He joined the Longhorns and I joined the Lady Longhorns in 2004.”

Sport has encompassed a lifelong love for Young-Mather. A recurring theme in her athletic endeavors has involved the participation of family and close friends.

“I have played badminton since I was about six, with my parents who ran a badminton club. I started competing in tournaments around the age 10. I have teamed up in the doubles category with my mother, father and my then boyfriend, now husband, Jim.

Other sports I have played include fast pitch, orthodox and slow pitch softball with my mother and husband. Often times, my father was coach or the umpire. I played in many tournaments as high up as Eastern Canadians fast pitch in St. John’s, Newfoundland, alongside a current Storm team member, Melissa Daley. I was also on the ice at a young age. I began figure skating at three, as a teen moved on to ringette then as a young adult, hockey with my mom.”

In 2007, Young-Mather added to her legacy when she was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in the MWFL. The honor and recognition was testament to her rising star in the MWFL and signified that she had truly arrived as an elite competitor.

“I was surprised when I received that award. I did not realize that the other teams thought of me that way. I received other league awards before, but this one meant I was being recognized by the other team’s coaches for my play on both sides of the ball, offense and defense.”

In 2008, Young-Mather was part of the Storm's first MWFL championship. With her husband contributing on the coaching staff, it was a glory that was shared between them. The title represented a remarkable turning point in franchise history, as the Storm would proceed to grab league titles in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

“It was very exciting because we were last place for a couple of years. We use to get beat bad. We just had it with getting walked over so decided enough was enough. We wanted to become a new team that could compete and give the other teams a run for their money."

"Our coaches changed their approach as well as the players began to train and became eager to learn more besides the basics. We were looking to improve but ended up winning that year. It was a true underdog story.”

As part of Team Canada at the 2010 World Championships, Young-Mather was part of a silver medal effort. With her husband Jim on the coaching staff, it was part of the unbroken narrative in the mutual growth of their career.

Along with Saint John teammates Melissa Daley, Lisa Harlow, Lisa Rogers and Alanna Waberski, it was an opportunity with close friends to show the world that women’s football had arrived and was truly major league status. Participating in a historic event in women’s sports was one that she will cherish for the remainder of her career.

“I was extremely proud to reach the highest achievement possible for women’s football. I was emotional and anxious to show the world what women’s tackle football is all about. That we train hard, work hard, study hard, hit hard and play in full gear, not just in our underwear. I am very proud of being able to say that I was the starter of every game in the first ever World’s as free safety."

Her family remains important to her, especially during the tough times.

"My husband was the receiver coach on the 2010 team, so we were very lucky to have experienced that historic event together. Unfortunately, an ACL tear & MCL sprain landed me on the reserve roster for the 2013 Team Canada but still very honored to have made the reserve list.”

With 2013 signifying the MWFL's landmark tenth anniversary season, it is only fitting that Young-Mather is competing in it. The opportunity to be part of such a milestone is a great point of pride for one of the greatest players in the league's history.

“I do not know where the time went. That is a huge milestone for women’s football. It’s a huge accomplishment for a league that started with two teams playing on fields that had to be prepared by coaches and fans of the sport to what we are today. Without the MWFL there would never have been the Team Canada 2010 silver medalist team.”

In a Hall of Fame worthy career filled with awards and accolades, the most important aspect is her family. While the sport has brought her family together, a great point of pride is sharing in the success of her son’s playing career.

“During my nine years of play, I got more involved in my son Desmond’s football career. My husband and I coached his bantam team. Then when Desmond joined the St. Malachys high school team, I got involved with helping out the offense while Desmond played defensive end.

In 2009, there was a spread in the Telegraph Journal of all the Saint John football teams where the three of us (Desmond, Jim and I) had our three team pictures. Not many high school boys can say they shared the page with the parent’s football team pictures as players.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”