Every weekend more than 100 women converge on Goudy Field — not to watch their children play soccer or partners play rugby, but to get rough and tumble in their own game of football.
“Football? Really?” laughs Caitlin Dunahee, a 21-year-old quarterback who’s been playing in the Victoria Women’s Football league for five years.
Dunahee says that’s the most common response when she tells friends that she plays with the old pigskin. “It’s not tackle, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not aggressive.”
The VWFL just kicked off its 2012 spring season with eight teams averaging more than 10 players, each fighting for supremacy in seven-a-side play. Each game has four 20-minute quarters. On some teams, the same players play both offence and defence, while others have a double roster where players stick to one specific position.
The league follows the Canadian Touch Football rule book but modifies play with competitors wearing two flags attached to a belt at their waists. Opponents must grab at least one flag to stop the ball carrier from advancing.
“It’s competitive, but no one is out to hurt anyone,” says Dunahee. “Just because it’s flag doesn’t mean it’s sissy.”
‘I don’t know what I would do without football’
Dunahee’s mother Crystal, 50, agrees. “It’s non-contact. I guess the word football scares people away, but it’s just a lot of fun,” she says. “It’s fairly safe, too. There’s the odd ankle or finger injury — if you’re a hand model, I wouldn’t bother — but it’s just so much better now that we play on a turf field. It’s level, there aren’t any hills that you’re not expecting and we can play in the rain because it doesn’t get muddy.”
The league moved play to Goudy Field in Langford’s City Centre Park three years ago after almost 30 years of playing on old school fields around town.
“We had to take care of the fields and do all the maintenance on them,” says VMFL vice-president Cindy Hatt. “The league has definitely become more legitimate since we moved to Goudy. We have fewer injuries, we can play under the lights and regardless of the weather we know what the field conditions will be.”
Crystal has been playing football since 1983. She joined the league just as it was gaining momentum and even started her own team, the Hellcats, which had a 15-year run. Now Crystal is a receiver on the Swarm, a team made up of league veterans.
“We’re basically the old ladies,” says Crystal. The Swarm’s players range from 21 to 52. “We’re a very seasoned team that goes out just to have fun. If we get a touchdown, that’s a bonus.”
Other teams are a little more competitive.
“I grew up with football,” says Caitlin, an engineering student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University on the mainland who comes home to Victoria to play football on weekends when she’s not tied down with school work. “I was always at the field watching, so joining just felt natural.”
Caitlin was just an infant on March 24, 1991 when her four-year-old brother, Michael, went missing from the old Blanshard Elementary school grounds while her mother played a game of football.
As soon as Caitlin reached the minimum required age of 16 she got her parents to sign a waiver allowing her to play. She spent her first few seasons playing with her mother’s team before starting her own, much younger team — the Barracudas, whose players range from 19 to 30.
“A lot of people think they can’t do it,” says Caitlin. “But I’ve brought out a lot of friends and they’re often surprised at what they can do. Plus the league is really supportive. You’ll often see players from one team giving advice and tips to the players they’re competing against.”
When new players join, they can decide what kind of team they’d like to play with as some are more competitive than others.
“Lots of ladies play soccer, hockey and rugby, so why not football?” says Crystal. “I just enjoy the activity. This is my time to go exert myself. I don’t know what I would do without football.”
The Football Widower
“When I tell people that I play football, they think I’m nuts,” says Hatt. “I recruit everywhere. My kids are always like ‘God, mom, please stop!’”
“People say that it’s too rough, or they’re scared because they’ve never played a competitive sport before, but I think this is a great place to start if you have no experience.”
The league offers clinics periodically throughout the year and teams often practice at least one time each week, with play happening Friday night or Saturday and Sunday afternoons, depending on field availability.
“For me, this is my outlet. With all the stress and crappy stuff I deal with during the week, taking care of the kids and running our family business, I need some time to myself to blow off some steam. My husband and kids know this is mommy’s time. My husband even calls himself a football widower,” Hatt says with a laugh.
“There are a lot of little ones running around, lots of kids on the sidelines,” says Hatt. “I think it’s great that the children get to see their moms being active and stay moving no matter how old or busy they get. I hope that one day my daughter will want to play, too.”
Hatt says league members come from all walks of life; some are teachers, some are small business owners, there are even some players from the police force and luckily, a massage therapist.
“We do find that a lot of the players were very active or athletic when they were younger and want to stay in shape,” says Hatt.
The VWFL has two seasons each year, the fall season runs from early September to late October and the spring season runs from early March until the end of June. The league holds playoffs and a banquet for each season and some parties in between. M
The Victoria Women’s Football League wants you:
Join the VWFL Sunday, April 8 at 10 a.m. at the Esquimalt Curling Rink for the 21st annual Michael Dunahee Keep the Hope Alive Drive. This 5K family fun run/walk through scenic Esquimalt helps raise awareness about Michael’s disappearance and personal safety for kids.
“We use this event to keep raising awareness of personal safety, especially now with the internet — it’s so important to have rules and have kids understand why those rules are in place,” says Crystal Dunahee.
Pick up a race registration form at Frontrunners (1200 Vancouver), Esquimalt Recreation Centre (527 Fraser) or The Donair Shop (1243 Esquimalt) or print off the form at: victoriawomensfootball.com/news/michael-dunahee-keep-hope-alive. There’s also a dance being held at the Esquimalt Curling Arena Friday, April 6 (9 p.m., $10) featuring That ’70s Band. Tickets are available at the door.
On Saturday, April 14, at 9 p.m., the VWFL is having a football-themed league fundraising party at The Castle Video Bar (1900 Douglas). Cover is by donation (minimum $10) and people are encouraged to wear their best football-related outfit.
New players are accepted throughout the year and the league is always looking for coaches, referees and linespeople to volunteer. To find out more, visit victoriawomensfootball.com.