The 'W' is for women; the 'F' is for football
Team beats odds en route to IWFL championship
With a few injuries and a bumpy start to the season, the odds appeared to be stacked against them - and that's on top of the challenge of establishing a new team in a young league in a sport otherwise dominated by men.
But perseverance, teamwork and a lot of practicing led the Wisconsin Warriors, an all-women football team, to win the North American championship game in Austin, Texas, on July 25.
The Kenosha-based team beat the Montreal Blitz, 42-14.
Women of football
The Warriors, established last year, are part of the Independent Women's Football League, an organization that has 51 full-contact women's football teams across the continent. IWFL was established in 2000 to give women - in a safe, positive environment - an opportunity to play a sport that, until now at least, has been long defined by men.
According to the organization's Web site, more than 1,600 women are on IWFL teams.
For the 19 women on the Warriors, three of whom hail from suburban Milwaukee County communities, the recent accomplishment came after a setback that could have ended the team's season.
Challenges all season
"We had a couple of injuries," Coach Norm Killion said. "There were 21 women on the team, and then we were down to 19. At any time we could've folded because there wouldn't have been enough players. Luckily, we didn't get any further injuries."
Because the IWFL and the Warriors are still new, Jodi vonSpreckelsen, team delegate and owner of the Warriors, said it has been challenging to recruit members to the team.
"(The championship) is sort of like a Cinderella story," said vonSpreckelsen, a graduate of Greendale High School. "Winning has surpassed my expectation of what it would feel like. It's been a very exciting time for all of us."
Unique coaching opportunity
Killion, a retired technical education teacher at Oak Creek High School, is in his 40th year of coaching.
He has taught football, basketball and baseball throughout his career. He later coached a semi-pro men's football team. This year he was approached about overseeing the Warriors as they headed into their second season.
"I've been blessed to work with educated, focused and athletic women," Killion said. "Most of these women haven't played football before, but they're athletic. They've played rugby, baseball and soccer. The women have found that once they try football, they become addicted to it."
Putting a foot in the game
Warriors linebacker Nicole Halvorson of West Allis joined the team this year after playing for other women's football teams the past three years. Halvorson also has been a rugby player for about seven years.
"As of right now, I have every intention of coming back," said Halvorson, who helps run a family oil distribution company in West Allis.
Bayside resident Brigid Mullen also is planning to return to the Warriors after her first year on the team.
"I can't wait. I've already started working out because the less out of shape you get, the easier it is," said Mullen, a defensive back and wide receiver who played for a different team, the Madison-based Wisconsin Wolves, the past three years.
Mullen said the team's championship would not have been possible if players were not willing to assume multiple rolls throughout the season.
"We were sometimes playing three or four different positions apiece," said Mullen, a sports journalist. "All of the girls really stepped up. I'd never really seen anything like that before."
Greenfield native and current Oak Creek resident Suzanne Aasturud, who has been involved with womens' football for six years, said it involves a great deal of commitment on the part of each player.
"Everyone has different obligations," said Aasturud, a third-shift police officer. "But we all worked around everything and got this far. Our crew of girls really came together, and that was awesome."
Aasturud credits Killion for some of the team's success.
"We had been struggling (during the inaugural 2008 season) because we were switching coaches," Aasturud said. "Coach Norm was prepared for practices, so that obviously helped us out a lot."
IWFL teams kick off their seasons in mid-April and play eight games through mid-June when playoffs start. Preseason training starts in January.
"I love football too much to quit, so I definitely plan on coming back next year," Aasturud said. "I like staying active."
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