Girls on the gridiron? Not likely, unless they were the cheerleaders leading the team out before the game. Or maybe the girls in the marching band, which is how it was for Theresa Trinka-Hoard, who graduated from Bothell High School and lives today in Snohomish.
Playing halftime shows with her high school band "was the closest I ever got to the football field," Trinka-Hoard said.
Even as women have made advances in other sports over the years, football has always remained the pride and province of men.
Until now, that is. Because the women of the Everett Reign are adjusting their shoulder pads and tightening their chin straps in anticipation of their upcoming season in the Women's Football Alliance, a league with 13 divisions and 50 teams from across the United States.
If you're thinking this is something like powder puff football, think again.
"This is real football," said 23-year-old Brynn Winsor of Monroe, a receptionist in the cardiology department of the Everett Clinic who plays on the team's offensive and defensive lines. "It's full tackle. It's what you see on Sundays."
The WFA has been around a few years, but this is the first season for the Reign, a team of women mostly in their 20s and 30s. They come from varied careers and sports backgrounds, but are united by their love of football and the opportunity to play a game that has been, to this point, mostly off-limits to their gender.
"I've wanted to play my entire life," said wide receiver and defensive back Brooklyn Holton of Arlington, a 23-year-old student at Western Washington University who is pursuing degrees in business management and kinesiology. "There's this feeling you get when you're out there -- and anyone that's played football can relate to it -- and it's that feeling you get when you make a block or catch the football.
"You have to play to understand why somebody would want to do this so bad, but then once you play, you don't want to do anything else," she said.
The Reign is coached by Billy Russo, who played football at Lakewood High School in the early 1990s before going on to play one season at Western New Mexico University and then a few seasons of semipro back in Snohomish County. He has been a high school assistant coach and today is the head coach at Park Place Middle School in the Monroe School District.
"Some of our girls have never played football before, so they're still learning," he said. "But we've got some real athletes on the team, and I think our starting lineup is going to be really solid."
Compared to men, Reign players "give up a lot in terms of strength," Russo said. "But we have a few girls who are super aggressive. They get after it. I was actually shocked by a couple of them."
Among them Winsor, who plays a bruising game. "I'm very physical," she said, "and I have no problem with the contact. It's a way to release your aggressions and stresses."
Winsor and Holton are two of the team's younger players, but there are older players, too. One of them is Trinka-Hoard, a personal trainer who is 55 -- no, that's not a typo -- and has four adult children. Her youngest plays football at Carroll College in Helena, Mont.
"I really didn't know much about football until my son started playing, but I've grown to love the sport," said Trinka-Hoard, an offensive and defensive lineman. "And now I understand why men love football and why they're so hooked on it. Because there's nothing like putting on pads and a helmet, and then going out there and hitting. It's great."
It was her husband who suggested she try out for the Reign, and at first "I laughed my head off," Trinka-Hoard said. "But then I thought about it and decided, well, one more thing for the bucket list."
Not everyone understands, of course. Family members fear for their safety. A few friends think they are nuts. And, sadly, some people believe a woman who wants to play football is somehow "less of a female," Holton said.
But others, men and women alike, are completely encouraging.
"The majority of my friends are very supportive," Trinka-Hoard said. "So many people come up to me and say, 'It's the coolest thing that you're doing this.' ... I just have a few women who don't understand it, but I think they will eventually.
"Besides," she added, "I like the idea of being very feminine if I want to, and then being able to come out here and kick ass."
As much as they love playing, the women have complaints about the apparel. Football gear is designed for male bodies, which means women have to wear pants and pads that are too big in some places, too small in others. Players were given new equipment at a recent Reign practice, and some were struggling to pull on snug football pants intended to fit the thighs, hips and derrières of men.
Likewise, shoulder pads do not rest properly on a woman's chest, "and my hip pads are not where my hips are," Winsor said.
But those are small grievances compared to the surpassing joy of simply playing the game.
"I'm doing something that I love," Holton said. "And I'm not afraid of getting injured because if you get injured doing something you love, it's worth it."
No one is quite sure how the public will respond to a football team for women, but the players are hoping it catches on. In particular, they want other women to get interested and consider playing, too.
"I think women will want to come out and see what it's all about," Winsor said. "Because it's empowering. For me it's like, 'Boys do this, and I want to do it, too.'"
"I grew up in an era when this would've been frowned upon," said Trinka-Hoard. "It would've been ludicrous. But now I get to do it, too."
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