The city was filled with women playing flag football, but no professional full tackle football was in sight. An influx of Division 1 athletes flooded the fields in the Chicago land area, and she knew that some of them were looking for more. With the call to join a women’s football team, the doors that many of the women had always been told were shut to them began to open. Some of the players jumped up, had broken through barriers and had been playing since peewees. Many more took a gamble and found more than a family, they found a home.
It’s been ten full seasons since the inception of what is now a groundbreaking, back bending, HARD CORE football team. The road has not been easy. These inspiring women have had to practice in condemned, abandoned factories with rotted holes collapsing three floors below them. (You learn to be hyper aware of your surroundings, pretty fast.) They literally have been running up against walls, wedging practices between buildings and roads. The perpetual rock and a hard place debate. Fitting, as getting slammed into by a force as incredible as a Division 1 athlete is often compared to having a brick wall run into you. These women have faced do or die, and triumphed.
Talking to some of the incredible members of this team will turn you into a believer. Football is not a game; it is a way of life. For more than a few of them, it’s a reminder of the glass ceilings they have shattered. A focus point to release and redeem all the struggles they have been put through. Becky Thuestad, a powerhouse player who has been sweating, bleeding, and living the Force since the start, tried to sum it up for me. “It’s the smell of doubles in summer, fall grass, dew in the morning when you are running, the grass–just that fresh cut grass smell–is football.” One overlaying theme seems to permeate all that Becky and Sami Grisafe (who has been the starting quarterback for the Force since joining the team in 2006) are saying to me. “We’re ready.”
If there was ever a year to do it, this is it. Led by John Konecki, who coached the women’s USA Football team in their gold medal year, the roster is awe inspiring. At least 7 of the players were on the USA team, with the rest coming from serious sports back grounds. These are women who have dedicated every moment of their free time, every ounce of their (not always disposable) income into the love of the game. Sacrifice doesn’t begin to cover it. None of the women on this roster receive any income for playing; the team relies heavily on sponsors and donations from people like us. They get no time off. Off season practices still run thrice a week, with the only “relaxation” time during tryouts in September.
This year is the year of redemption. These women don’t know how to do anything small. Instead of the traditional aluminum, the team is aiming to bring home the sparkling championship trophy from Pittsburg when they push their way into the winner’s circle.
But it is so much bigger than this team, these ladies. It’s about pushing forward for equal treatment. It’s about inspiring the girls of tomorrow, and letting them know they can play with (and often better than) the boys. That donning that rocking hot jersey and throwing that perfect spiral is as much a naturally instinctive possibility as perfecting a pirouette in that little pink tutu.
Reminding girls and young women everywhere, once again, that they are not second class citizens – that they aren’t relegated to dance and pompoms unless they really want to be. That they can muddy up and still be a real girl – that they have the CHOICE to date the head cheerleader instead of having to be the head cheerleader. They can take a hit, they can be strong and FORCEful AND beautiful.
The Chicago Force Women’s Football team is more than chicks in uniforms hitting hard and winning big. They are walking, talking, running, diving, tackling, weaving, accomplished, dedicated, empowered women who remind the little jock inside each of us that if we dare to want it – we can actually have it. They tell us each and every time they charge the field and face the end zone that we can hold our own, on the field and off.
July 21, 2012 7:00 PM
The Force vs. Boston Militia
LAZIER FIELD at Evanston Township HS
2285 Church Street (on the north side of Church, one block west of Dodge)
Evanston, IL 60201
Purchase tickets here
For more info visit ChicagoForceFootball.com
*corrections were made to this article post publishing to reflect a more accurate depiction of the history of the team. Thanks for your support!
About Leah Schein
Leah is a born and bred Chicagoan, and considers herself extremely fortunate to be raised by amazing liberal parents in Logan Square. Coming from a long family history of equality activism, the crazy world of politics feels like home to her. Her upbringing allowed her to fully appreciate her love of tacos, and provided the support needed to be independent and insane. She is a happy survivor of the public school system, all the way through her undergrad years, culminating with a BA in anthropology. Her love of travel and all things adventurous led to the pursuit of a Master of Science from sunny ol’ England, where she happily grasped a conservation degree and ran off to live in a number of rain forests to research nocturnal primates. Through the amazing diversity she was fortunate to be raised amongst, she has an unwavering appreciation of all cultures and peoples, and has used this to form the foundation of her outspoken support of civil rights. You may have seen her running around Boystown/Tuna town over the last decade, or at events she volunteers at for the Human Rights Campaign. It’s possible you spied her at the Silent Film Festival. That strange woman getting into a wrestling match in the leaves on Foster Ave beach at 3am…that definitely wasn’t her. She couldn’t be more excited about sharing her love of science, and it’s role in our daily lives, with the community she loves. Nerds are cool, people. They drink martini’s too.