Football Fever in the Wasatch Front

As Utahns watched the Utes lose against Texas Christian University, Utah’s gay and lesbian football fans cried, yelled and accepted defeat alongside their straight friends and hoped for better outcomes down the road.

Yes, football is alive and well in Utah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Two women-only, full contact tackle teams will gear up for season play in 2011 and the Mountain West Flag Football League has recently represented Salt Lake City at the annual national flag football tournament, Gay Bowl X, where they brought home a trophy.

While women used to play powder-puff football, women’s tackle football leagues have sprung up across the nation in recent years. These leagues feature women of all ages, skill sets and attitudes who don complete uniforms — including helmets, pads and mouth guards — to learn football offensive and defensive strategies.

Currently in the United States there are three full-contact women’s football leagues: the Women’s Football Alliance, the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL), and the Women’s Spring Football League, each of which are made up of former women rugby players, soccer moms, multi-sport athletes, and novices who want to learn and play America’s favorite contact sport. These female athletes are as diverse in lifestyle as the communities, and a high percentage of them are lesbian.

Salt Lake City has two amateur, full-contact women’s teams, now gearing up for season play in 2011. The Utah Blitz, in its second year and a part of the WFA, will now have another Salt Lake City team to contend with: the independent Utah Jynx, which will kick off for the first time next year.

The Utah Blitz was formed in 2009 by four players: two from the Northern Avalanche, an indoor women’s football team, and two others who were about to join the Avalanche, but didn’t because the Avalanche decided not to join the WFA.

“The Utah Blitz was created with different management, coaching staff, and competing in 11 position outdoor football, not eight position indoor as the Avalanche did,” said Concetta Defa, Utah Blitz board member, marketing director, and one of the four lesbians who started the team.

“We don’t specifically ask players what their orientation is,” said Defa. “Our team members come from all over the place. We have some who live in various cities in Utah, Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, and Tooele counties.”

Though the Blitz is keeping past members in shape now and recently had three clinics this past fall, official practices won’t start until the winter.

“We will be renting an indoor soccer field for practices through the winter months then we will practice at local parks and on our playing field after it warms up,” said Defa. “Being at practices will affect the amount of time you play during a game. Outside of practice, players must participate in strength training, speed and agility training, and injury prevention programs; however, they may do this in small groups or on their own if necessary for their schedules.”

This year the Utah Blitz has secured the new McCarthey Stadium at Judge Memorial High School in which to play their games. The football field is located in the heart of Salt Lake City, below the University of Utah. Season play will start in April and extend throughout the summer with playoffs scheduled in July.

“We expect to play 10 games, but we won’t know until the league releases the schedule,” said Defa. “We played seven league-sanctioned games and one scrimmage game last season.”

The WFA currently has 41 teams throughout the United States, with the Blitz in the American Division, North Pacific, Region VI. Although Utah Blitz did not win any of their seven games last year, four team members were named WFA All-Americans.

“In terms of cost, like most teams, there is a small fee. Players must also buy their own equipment and uniform, but players have the opportunity to raise money for themselves to help offset these costs, while raising money for the team,” said Defa. “This season we have enlisted the help of Lynda Lee … to help us with our sponsorship drive from a corporate standpoint, but each member of the team is encouraged to be involved with our sponsorship efforts.”

Defa said that, at this time, the Utah Blitz has no plans to scrimmage or play the new Utah Jynx team, which is an expansion team based in West Valley.

“Utah Jynx is following in the footsteps of BYU and playing as an independent team,” said Michelle Poe, marketing and PR manager. “We will be playing teams from all three women’s football leagues. Why play teams in just one league when you can show you’re the best in all leagues?”

Utah Jynx is coached by Greg Cover, who has only been coaching an all-female team for the past two years, and who has brought a full complement of coaching staff to the team.

“My daughter is 12 and she said she’ll be the first NFL [women’s] quarterback to win a Super Bowl,” explained Cover, who added that he was at first skeptical about coaching a women’s team. “These girls are putting in their time and effort. Their heart is the reason why I coach this team. They aren’t tainted by other philosophies or skills.”

Forty-three players have currently signed up for practices that are being held every Saturday morning at Granger Park and Wednesday night at Granger High School, specifically for conditioning. Their goal is to reach 60 players for regular season play.

On Nov. 13, Utah Jynx has scheduled a comprehensive camp that will help players put everything together, as so far players have been focusing on specific aspects of the game during current practices, from special teams, to offense and defense elements and basics.

“We have players from all across the Wasatch Front. Women from Provo to Salt Lake City to Ogden and beyond have signed up,” said Poe, who mentioned that she thought about 50 percent were lesbian. “Women who join and pay their player fee will get to be a part of the team. All travel costs are taken care of for away games, but players do have to buy their own meals.”

Sponsors are also a big part of making the team function smoothly. Player’s fees are $300, but for every $1,000 a player brings in as sponsorship for Utah Jynx, she gets a $100 reimbursement. Players are required to buy or rent their shoulder pads and helmets, but the team furnishes their practice uniforms.

“We are also active in community projects, and we want to give back to the communities that are supporting us,” said Poe. “We are also planning to participate in Bowl for a Cure, a breast cancer fundraiser in January, and we’re planning several other community service projects over the holidays.”

Utah Jynx plans to participate in a round robin tournament in Washington in March, but will be traveling for five games and hosting five games at Granger High School during their regular season, which starts in March and lasts until June. Tryouts for specific positions will take place Dec. 11. Utah Jynx’s first game is slated to be with the Las Vegas Showgirlz, who were named one of the best teams in the WFA last year.

Both teams play by the same rules as men’s professional football, except the ball they use is a bit smaller. Teams are coached by male coaches because of their past experience in playing and coaching football. Fundraising is always essential to any amateur sports team, and any financial support goes back into the maintenance and management of the team. Usual fees include field rental, referee costs, gym rental, equipment, travel, marketing and field maintenance. Coaches volunteer their time and experience.

For more information, visit utblitz.com or utahjynx.net, or visit both teams’ Facebook pages.

Avalanche Places at Gay Bowl X

The Mountain West Flag Football League’s competitive tournament team, Salt Lake City Avalanche, brought home the consolation trophy at this year’s annual Gay Bowl X, the national gay flag football league championships that were hosted by the Phoenix Hellraiser Football League Oct. 6-11, in Phoenix. Twenty-six teams from the United States and Canada competed in the annual championship tournament which seeded teams for play on Friday and Saturday games, to divide the teams into a competitive and a consolation bracket.

Avalanche played their first game against the Phoenix Hellraiser III. They won and went on to face the NY Warriors, the team Avalanche lost to in the finals of Gay Bowl VIII, which was hosted by the Mountain West Flag Football league in Salt Lake City in 2008. After losing to the Warriors, Avalanche then played the Washington Metros on Saturday morning, losing and placing Avalanche into the consolation bracket.

With a #2 seed in the bracket, Avalanche played the Pittsburgh Ironmen, the South Florida Cat 5 and the Denver Summit. They won the consolation bracket, but placed 17th overall, after all of the teams in the competitive bracket placed above the consolation teams.

In each game played during the tournament, the opposing team’s captain chooses an offensive and defensive most valuable player on the other team. Mark Madsen, Avalanche’s quarterback, although injured during the NY Warriors game and missing the Washington Metro game, was consistently chosen by opposing team captains. Thus, he was chosen as Avalanche’s most valuable tournament player.

While at Gay Bowl X, Avalanche was caught on film during play by a documentary film crew who were making a film about three of the teams attending the Gay Bowl. The documentary will be aired on LOGO channel in 2011, if the project gets enough funding.

A new Board of Directors for the Mountain West Flag Football will be named next year and practice will begin in March 2011 at Sugar House Park on Thursday nights. Plans include a scrimmage with the Denver Summit team during regular league play, and possibly attending gay flag football tournaments in Palm Springs and Chicago in the summer. Gay Bowl XI will be held in Houston in October of 2011.

For more information about Gay Bowl X visit gaybowlX.com. Visit mwffl.org for more information on Salt Lake City’s gay flag football league. For more information about the documentary, visit flagfootballthemovie.com.

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