It’s season eleven for Andra Douglas, owner of the longest operating and winningest all-female football team in the U.S.,
the New York Sharks, and a woman whose pioneering spirit and far-reaching vision will no doubt ensure that this year is a historic one for women’s sports worldwide.
Douglas’s New York Sharks are part of the overall U.S. women’s football league, which includes 44 different professional teams. The Sharks current season starts on April 10th. One week later, the Sharks’s long-standing success in women’s flag football will be honored as former quarterback for the Montreal Blitz Samantha Rapoport, now manager of the NFL Girls Flag Football Leadership Program, does the coin toss and delivers a halftime speech about initiating girls’ flag football programs in high schools across the U.S.
The celebration of women and young girls’ active participation in sports continues on April 24th, when Shannon Wentworth, CEO of Sweet, the women’s travel and “voluntourism” company, will be the next to do the coin toss honors. After the game starts, Wentworth will turn yet another of her dreams into reality by going to the press booth to call a portion of the game.
This effort to honor and encourage women’s participation in sports will go on throughout the season, with each and every game providing another opportunity for inspirational programming and a chance for women to move in from the sidelines. This is just another piece of herstory for Andra who, as the founder of the Fins Up! Foundation For Female Athletes, spearheaded efforts to launch a free football clinic for girls between the ages of 12 and 17 where they can learn and play the game, growing both as team players and as individuals in the process.
“Fins Up! has a strong outreach mission designed to create and support sports programs that build self-esteem and promote a fit lifestyle free of substance abuse in all forms, childhood obesity and gang/criminal activities,” Andra told GO. “The Foundation also funds girls sports teams, conducts sports camps that teach the fundamentals of team sports and sportsmanship, offers expertise to local high school girls’ athletic programs, provides professional female athletes, coaches and corporate executives to speak at schools, and partners with charities that focus on health issues such as breast cancer, domestic violence, anorexia and obesity.”
Flash back to the year 2000, when Andra drew funds from her savings account, quit her position with Money magazine, bought the team and played as its quarterback (#7). Only two years later, the Sharks won the Championship game for the newly formed Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL).
Since then the number of teams has grown considerably, and with it the opportunity for women to play a sport that had traditionally been seen as man’s prerogative. It’s not easy, either—women have to work much harder to legitimize their presence in the sport than men. “It is unfortunate that, after ten years, women’s pro football has to charge players a training fee,” Andra explains, “and that sponsors are few. It is also disheartening that the media readily covers women’s tackle football as long as the women are playing in their underwear. Lingerie Football is both insulting to women and the sport of football.”
Since there are no college leagues for women’s tackle football, the narrative of the female player is different than that of her male counterpart. For one thing, the feeder system for women definitely does not come from varsity teams. Athletic ability, endurance, drive and a passion for football will get girls on a team; great coaching and a spirit of sisterhood will lead them to the top of the podium as they learn on the job.
A casual visit to one of the nation’s many sports museums will educate even an amateur about sports and women’s role in them. The Sharks have played a major role in that history. For instance: they are the first women’s tackle football team to have an item (a signed football) displayed at the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame. A full New York Sharks exhibit became a permanent display at the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita. One
of Andra’s retired uniforms is on display at
the Women’s Museum of Texas, and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum devoted a space to Sharks wide receiver Jen Blum (#84), who competed on “American Gladiator”.
The beginning of 2010 brought members of the New York Sharks to television as cornerback Toni Salvatore (#41) landed a house repair gig on “$10 Grand In Your Hand,” while players Adrienne Smith (#10), Leeann Brzozowski (#86), and Melodie Abrook (#34) requested funding from “Bank of Hollywood” for training and competing in the first ever International Women´s tackle Football Tournament to be held in Stockholm, Sweden, June 26 to July 4.
USA Football and the IWFL have chosen three Sharks players to be part of Team USA. They will be joined by Beth Nugent, former player and current coach, who will be one of the US team’s two female coaches. This is not the first time that the NY Sharks have entered a worldwide tournament. In 2008, an International Flag Football Tournament was held in Canada. USA Football selected the Sharks for the five-on-five competition, out of close to 100 women’s tackle football and many other women’s flag football teams. The Sharks took four of the five preliminary games, beating the 20-1 odds and prompting USA Football to enter this year’s tournament in Ottawa, slated in August.
The Sharks’ final scheduled home game this season will take place on May 22nd and is an open invitation to all who wish to celebrate women and women’s role in sports. The Sharks have put out a call for girls (or girl groups) who want to sing the national anthem, be the team’s honorary cheerleaders, perform a special half-time show, or get involved in any other way. In the words of their announcement: “Let’s celebrate the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc, Powerplay, Go Girls Go, and all the other girls’ groups who champion
positive self-awareness and health issues! All organizations attending will be announced. Come with a group banner and be recognized!” Admission is free to girls who will be joining an organization in attendance.
If you would like to become a participant in the Sharks’ herstory in the making, check out their website (nysharksfootball.com) for further details. Herstory shows us that it takes an empowered woman to empower others. Come and find out for yourself just how big and lasting an impact one woman can make on women’s pro football.