Wham, bam, thank you ma'am 

Virginia Adams has been a stay-at-home mom for her two children for three years. In between taking care of the kids, she finds time to serve as an offensive lineman, or rather, linewoman for the Detroit Predators, a full-contact tackle football team for women.

Yes, it’s true — women do play football. And they watch it too. According to NFL.com, more than 40 million women watch a game on an average weekend.

But women’s football isn’t televised, and the players don’t get megasalaries and product endorsements. In fact, they don’t get paid at all.

Still a burgeoning sport, women’s football has found a growing interest recently. The NFL presents an opportunity for women to learn the basics from coaches and players in classes, such as the one hosted by the Detroit Lions in October.

But what about those who want to play in a real league? For the past four years, there was just one professional women’s team in the city — the three-time defending champion, orange-and-black-wearing Detroit Demolition. They play in Beverly Hills and belong to the National Women’s Football Association (NWFA), currently 40 teams strong, with two more joining in 2006.

Now, thanks to a growing demand, a second Detroit team has been formed, from a different league, the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL). The Detroit Predators are one of 28 teams in the league. Last year, the Predators were just an exhibition team, tackling and tossing in blue and green uniforms in Harper Woods — but this year they start competing with a regular schedule, playing five home games and five away.

Speaking of competition, is there any friction between the Predators and the Demolition?

No, the Demolition and the Predators will never play each other, because they’re in different leagues. (But it sure would be fun to take that match over to Ford Field and give everyone a taste of what these women can do.)

Michelle “Mick” Pike, former player, co-owner, general manager and league liaison, says all women 18 and older are welcome to play regardless of knowledge of the game, prior injuries, weight, shape, size or fitness level. The IWFL even had a 70-year-old tackling grandmother about two years ago, Pike says.

The players come from all over southeast Michigan; Pike commutes from Ann Arbor, while others come from as far as Port Huron, Kalamazoo and Toledo, Ohio, to play with the Predators.

Wendy Westbrooks just graduated from medical school and will begin a residency in psychiatry soon. She’s only been with the team for three months. She says her husband is supportive, bringing his friends —who are excited by the idea of women playing football — to watch the practices. They can’t wait for the season to start and want to buy their tickets ($5 a pop) now, Westbrooks says.

“I take out my hubby aggressions,” says Adams, the stay-at-home mom. “I get out and meet other women. I love it, it’s a good time.”

Adams had little technical knowledge of the game before she started.

“Mick teaches each position and what they do, lots of teaching and handouts. I’ve learned a lot,” Adams says.

Her husband supports her playing, but “he couldn’t do this, practice like this,” she says.

On a blustery Saturday at their practice location on Taylor Center High School’s field, the Predators practice full-contact tackle football. The players do standard football drills, but without the typical practice equipment — just shoulder pads and helmets, which the players pay for; a few footballs; some old, discarded tires; and a couple of padded shields. With no yard lines drawn on the field, the coaches set out cones to indicate where the line of scrimmage is. Saturday practices remain outdoors until December when it gets too cold; then they’ll move to the gym on the East Side where the players also practice Monday and Wednesday evenings.

“I’ve been wanting to play since I was young,” says Tracey McKenzie, a Wayne County Sheriff’s deputy who played wide receiver and defensive back last season. “I’d play with the boys in the streets and wanted to play on the high school team, but my mom said no. I cried for weeks.”

Now her mom comes to her games.

Tracey McKenzie was introduced to the Predators through a co-worker who was on the team; her husband Tony McKenzie later joined the team as a coach.

Last season the Predators were in danger of folding because management dropped the ball. So Tony McKenzie dug into his own pocket and stepped up to become the co-owner with Pike because his wife still wanted to play.

In fact, Tracey McKenzie says that little Tony, the couple’s 2-year-old son, just loves that his mommy plays and his daddy coaches. The toddler even participates in the drills at practice, and does them at home, too, grabbing his dad’s whistle and running drills with his mom. Perhaps the couple’s 7-month-old, Titan, will soon follow in step.

The notion of family bonds runs in the heart of the team.

“We’ve got to be a family,” Tony McKenzie told the team at the end of a Saturday practice. “This is a family affair, no weak link. Pat each other on the back. That’s what it’s all about.”

And it looks as though a new generation of female football players is being nurtured. According to NFL.com, nearly 3,000 girls play high school football. Starting next year, 16-year-olds can join the new Prep Predators to learn the game, but with no contact.

Sorry, girls, but you’ll have to wait until 18 if you want to tackle mom.

 

The Predators are holding tryouts on Saturday, Dec. 4. Call coach Tony McKenzie at 313-999-0875 for time and location. See their Web site at detroitpredators.com.

Rhona A. Mays is an editorial intern for Metro Times. Send comments to

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