By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 16, 2024.
While fans of the National Football League are preparing for their season finale in February, players on the Lethbridge Steel women’s football team are preparing for their season to start, and hoping to add to the roster before spring kick-off.
Meeting bright and early on a brisk Saturday morning, women of all ages gathered at the Cor Van Raay YMCA for the first of five winter training camp sessions.
After a long off-season, the ladies of the Lethbridge Steel, part of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, hit the ground running in preparation for an exciting new season that will begin competitively in April.
Made up of women with various skill levels and experience, the team is one of three in the Western conference, and seven in the league, facing off against the Edmonton Storm and Calgary Rage in the regular season.
But for the players who braved the cold to get a head start on training, there’s more to being on the Steel than the thrill of physical competition. With so much left to be done to bridge the gender gap in sports, it’s an opportunity for women to get involved and connect with one another.
Megan Croy, runningback and linebacker for the team, says her favourite part of playing for the Steel has been forming friendships.
“Everyone who is part of the team is just lovely, so welcoming.”
Croy is entering her fourth season and says her experience playing team sports before joining was limited.
Donnelly Morris, offensive and defensive lineman, says her involvement with team sports also didn’t start in her youth.
“I actually joined when I was 35 years old,” she says.
“I had never played team sports in my life, not through high school, not through university. I got recruited at a SportChek, I showed up the next day and I haven’t stopped since.”
Much like Croy and Morris, Steph Dick, also an offensive and defensive lineman, had a later start, too.
“This will be my third year, I started when I was 45â€¦I had never played any organized sports eitherâ€¦ I’m so glad I found it.”
While some might assume a game full of physical contact and running plays requires all recruits be in tip-top shape, the women of the Steel will firmly dispute that.
“You don’t need to be a certain type, we always struggle to find linemen because generally that type (bigger women) think that they can’t play a sport,” says Dick.
“One of my favourite parts about football is that there is a position for everybody and every body,” adds Morris. “I was not fast, but I am big and I’m hard to knock over, so there was a spot for me, and I’ve been very successful at it.”
Croy says the beauty of football is the variety of players.
“We need people of all bodies, all skills, it’s very wide because there’s so many different positions that need to have different strengths.” She adds, “It’s really fun to play a competitive sport as an adult woman. I feel like there’s not that many options for that, and just being able to lean into that side of you, the kind of aggressive and competitive side, is really fun.”
This is a sentiment Dick shares who says “There’s nothing like making a tackle. It is just an adrenaline rush.”
She playfully mentions there are some unexpected social benefits, too.
“It’s hilarious to watch men’s faces when you say, ‘I play tackle football’â€¦ to me, they almost respect you a little more.”
As women’s sports continue to grow in popularity and support, the team hopes their team will, too.
“I think now that flag football has been introduced into the Olympics we’re going to start to see a really good feeder program coming from the high schools,” says Morris.
“I think it’s going to be a really huge, huge step for women’s football, women’s flag football.”
For those interested in joining the team, Dick says it’s the perfect time.
“Winter camp is a safe place because it’s very minimal tackle, minimal contact, you just get the basics down and you don’t have to commit, it’s a great opportunity.”
Head Coach Matthew Sentes says he looks forward to seeing his players develop in their skills over the season.
“A lot of these players have never played football before, they’ve maybe never even watched football before â€¦ so seeing them go from zero football I.Q and zero football knowledge, being super green in the sport, to being huge contributors, playing both ways, being able to play, understand, talk the game like anybody who has played multiple years of football. Seeing that growth from zero to that much is something I always love seeing and looking back on at the end of the year. It’s something I’m really excited for this year as we have a lot of new players again.”
Sentes adds “If you’re on the fence about it just come out, give it a go, the coaches are really good at being patient, being happy, trying to make this as fun as possible.”
“We’ll meet you where you’re at, we’re just here to have fun,” says Croy.
Interested in joining?
Follow Lethbridge Steel Football on Instagram and Facebook, or visit, http://www.LethbridgeSteelFootball.com