Whoever said that girls can't play football hasn't seen these girls play football.
The Calgary Rockies women's full-contact football team has become a niche in the city for ladies of all ages who want to throw the pigskin around and make some very hard tackles. Established in 2000, the team plays by Canadian Football League rules and promotes a no-holds-barred approach to the game. When the Rockies folded last year due to lack of support, team manager Audra "Audi" Nelson spearheaded the team's recreation, leading to its strongest season to date.
"[We] started with three and now we have 20," says Nelson. "I was scared towards the end of the year, but we got the ladies out and they're diehard and ready to go. Definitely seeing the numbers and the interest [proves] it's not just me [that's interested]."
With the team being the only full-contact outlet of its kind in Calgary, the Rockies' membership is quite diverse in terms of experience and background.
"You've got to dig pretty deep to find all these ladies because a lot of them have never played a sport before or a lot of them have never played a team sport before," Nelson says. "There were a couple of wrestlers and some out of high school that were track people and so on, but [there was] not a lot of interest in football initially. Some maybe were like, 'I can't play football.'"
The Rockies played two games against the Edmonton Storm this season, the final on Oct. 21. For many of the ladies, it was their first time actually playing a full team and a real glimpse into their potential for what the group can accomplish.
"It's been a long, load road but it's finally starting to pay off," says quarterback and assistant manager Chandelle Webber. "It's kind of nice to actually get in and play some games."
Webber was a wrestler before her QB days. Though wrestling and football are very different sports, she says the learning curve wasn't too much to catch up to.
"It wasn't too bad because everyone else was kind of new, so it didn't really seem like you had to be amazing right now," she says.
Wide receiver Amanda Gugyleka echoes the sentiment.
"We played a lot of sports growing up," she says. "Once you play stuff like hockey, it's all positioning. So, it's pretty easy to catch on to all the other sports once you played others."
The team focuses on playing a hard, physical game that proves women can play up in the men's ranks with no problem at all at their level.
"There is nothing different [between us and other football teams]," says Nelson. "In my opinion, after playing the game for six years, we hit as hard, if not harder, than the men do. We're not out there to look good when we hit or make the fancy tackle."
Not only does the team have a dedicated membership, they also have great support staff reinforcing them. Though coach Blair Spring started with the team under some odd circumstances, his involvement has enriched his already-vibrant love of sports.
"One of my friends was supposed to play but, due to complications, she actually didn't end up playing, so I stuck with the team," coach Blair says. "I love football and it's one of my favourite games, so I decided I would stay on and then it ended up that I was the head coach by the end of it, so I've tried to make a good solid run at it and from what I've seen on the field, I'm not doing too bad so far."
In addition to the coach, the team enlisted University of Calgary fourth-year kinesiology student Lakin Halvorson as their trainer. Being a part of the team has given her invaluable practical experience and a new social group.
"This is what I want to do with my degree, get on a team and be a trainer and I thought, 'I might as well get out there and get some experience and have something to put on my resume,'" Halvorson says. "It's nice being a part of the team. I've always played sports and stuff like that and I've never been on the outside on the coaching side."
With a successful rebuilding year under their belts and some very devoted members, the Calgary Rockies can expect things to get better in the coming seasons. This leaves coach Blair and all the players with a very positive outlook on the team and its future.
"We have not a lot of players on our team, but they watch football and the competitive values in every one of these players is incredible," said coach Blair.