As most Canadian football fans know, the CFL regular season kick offs July 1. Meanwhile, for amateur athletes playing in Western Women Canadian Football League (WWCFL), the final games of the regular season were played on June 17. Playoffs are now underway, with each team hoping to making it to the 2012 WWCFL Championship game in Saskatoon, SK on July 14.
South of the border, there are two well-established women’s tackle football leagues—the Women’s Football Alliance and the Independent Women’s Football League—that collectively boast 92 teams from all across the nation (including one Canadian team, the Montreal Blitz).
The WWCFL is an all-female full-contact football league that is currently comprised of seven teams from across western Canadian. In its second season, the league is divided into two conferences; the Western Conference hosts the three Albertan teams (Lethbridge Steel, Calgary Rage and Edmonton Storm), while the Prairie Conference is comprised of two Saskatchewan teams (Saskatoon Valkyries and Regina Riot) and two teams that play out of Winnipeg (the Manitoba Fearless and the Winnipeg Nomads Wolf Pack).
For clarification, one would be remiss to confuse the WWCFL with the likes of the (in)famous Lingerie Football League (LFL). Unlike the LFL, WWCFL athletes wear traditional football uniforms and play the same game with the same rules as found in the CFL, CIS and all levels of Canadian football.
Having grown up in a football family, founding the Manitoba Fearless fulfilled a lifelong dream for Tannis Wilson.
“I created the team because I wanted to play [tackle football] my entire life,” explains Wilson. “Even though my dad coached, my brother played, my mom just said ‘no you’re not playing.’”
“It was kind of a selfish motive for me to start the team, because I wanted to play.”
Currently, Wilson is the general manager for the Manitoba Fearless and the commissioner of the WWCFL. She’s also responsible for introducing women’s tackle football in the province and getting the ball rolling on organizing the WWCFL.
Wilson says that women’s tackle football is one of the final frontiers in terms of sports in North America. While still in relative infancy in Canada and Manitoba, the recent formation of the Manitoba Girls Football Association by Football Manitoba will hopefully open up the sport to younger generations of girls who are interested. Now, Manitoban girls between the ages of 9 and 14 can learn and play the unique team sport at a younger age alongside others looking for the same opportunity.
Allyssa Buckland, a U of M student and linebacker for the Fearless, first started playing tackle football for the St Vital Mustangs when she was 12 years old. Buckland says that playing with the boys was good fun, but that playing with all-ladies seems to bring out a bit more aggression.
“It’s different, but I definitely still enjoy it,” said Buckland. “I’d say that the girls are just as intense as the guys.”
While it helps to come into the league with playing experience, there are plenty of players who’ve joined with little to no previous experience. First-year running back Tabatha Bandlow had never played any team sports, but signed up to play for the Fearless when they set up shop on the U of M campus last year.
The Fearless and the Nomads Wolf Pack wrapped up their regular season against each other on June 17.
The game was a spirited match, with a healthy crowd of spectators looking on as the two teams showcased their skills on both sides of the ball. The game was as intense as you would expect it to be in an important game between fierce rivals. In the end, despite a last minute comeback attempt that almost went the distance, the Wolf Pack scored a touchdown as time expired to take the game 36-24.
Now both teams will prepare to travel to Saskatchewan for the playoffs, which start next weekend. Speaking with some of the players, the Saskatchewan teams appear to be the ideal model to follow for other teams in the league. For instance, the Saskatoon Valkyries garner support from all levels of football in the region, with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL listed as a ‘Gold level’ sponsor on the team’s website. Meanwhile, the Riders allow the Regina Riot to use Taylor Field at Mosaic Stadium for their home games.
“Here in Manitoba, we definitely don’t get as much backing from the province or the Bombers,” said Buckland. “They definitely get a lot more money put into their program, and it shows.”
Hopefully that’s something that will change as the league’s visibility grows. With the league now firmly established after two years in existence, the WWCFL is hoping to add four new teams—including the first team in B.C.—in the next few years.
If you’re interested in playing or volunteering with either the Manitoba Fearless or the Winnipeg Nomad Wolf Pack, you can get in contact by finding their team page on www.wwcfl.com.