Read all about the Manitoba Fearless in the Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg Free PressSportsFearless women blazing a trail
By: Ashley Prest
Updated: June 27, 2008 at 12:35 AM CDT
They're the Manitoba Fearless -- they'll run full speed into a tackler and compare bruises later but they're also going where women have never gone before in this province.
The Fearless are Manitoba's first tackle football team for women playing the same game, same rules, same crack back blocks as the men. After a long winter of workouts, the team will compete in the inaugural Western Canadian Women's Tackle Football Championship in Edmonton. The Fearless will meet the Edmonton Storm on Saturday and the Calgary Rockies on Monday in the three-team round-robin event at Clarke Stadium.
"It's what we're about, we've got T-shirts, 'Eat, Sleep, Breathe Football -- Live Fearlessly,'" said team founder Tannis Wilson, 40, a Fearless defensive lineman who grew up wanting to play tackle football but didn't have the chance.
"It is a dream come true, I've wanted to get this started for about five years now. It just seems to be the right time."
Wilson, whose father George is a former football coach and builder and brother Geordie is a former University of Manitoba player, has played flag football since she was a youngster and is a coach with the St. Vital Mustangs bantam team. When she started the Fearless last fall, she found out there were at least 30 other females aged 16 to 44 who also wanted to play tackle football.
One of those players is linebacker Allyssa Buckland, the team's second most experienced player at just 16 because she played five years of tackle football with boys in the Manitoba Minor Football Association. Allyssa went ahead and recruited her mom Sharon, a 40-yaer-old rookie defensive back.
"I really thought it would be a great way to do something with my mom and football is such an awesome game, I just wanted to share it with her," said Allyssa, who is also playing women's rugby. "It's been fun, I try to help her out when I can. We study our playbooks together."
Sharon said football was great experience for Allyssa but by last year, when she was a 15-year-old midget player, some of the other players were growing into the 200-pound range.
"I'd like to see this continue because it will allow these girls some place to keep playing," Sharon said. "I never thought of playing before, it took a little convincing but I really thought it was something I just had to try."
Wilson said the Fearless met last week in their locker-room, provided by the St. Vital Mustangs football club, to watch a DVD of the last game between Edmonton and Calgary.
"It was awesome! We had the cooler in there, and of course because we're women someone made cookies, we're sitting around watching football game film in our uniforms!" Wilson said.
The trip will cost each player about $1,000, including the purchase of a jersey while other equipment has been loaned to the Fearless by the Mustangs, East Side Eagles, North Winnipeg Nomads and the provincial under-17 team.
"Don't let anyone or anything stop you from living your dream," Wilson said. "I'm 40 and I've wanted to play since I was nine years old. I've had to wait for a considerable amount of time but you can't give up on your dream."
Players learned fundamentals and tactics from an experienced head coach -- Craig Bachynski, Football Manitoba's technical director and a former provincial team coach. Wilson said the hope is that a women's tackle football league can be started within the next three to five years.
Fair-play rule means equal time for all
The Manitoba Minor Football Association has a fair-play rule in the terminator (ages 7-8) through bantam (age 14) divisions. The rule states all players, regardless of gender, get equal playing time in their positions. If two players shared a position, each would play half the game. It has been in place for some time but more strictly enforced in the past four years.
"It's an actual bylaw within the MMFA," said Tannis Wilson, vice-president of marketing for Football Manitoba, women's tackle football co-ordinator and Manitoba Fearless player. "As much as the perception is that it's a male game, in football, no females have been discriminated against. As long as they could perform to the same level that anybody else on the team could, they're part of the team."
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