In full sprint, Kala Switzer leaps for the long pass with Cari Hebert hot on her heels, grabbing for the velcro strip.
In the Victoria Women’s Football League, tackling and rough play isn’t allowed, unless of course the ref isn’t watching. Touch football may be the game, but the energy and air of fierce competition is undeniable.
“There’s the odd bump and bruise — and broken finger. It’s pretty competitive,” says veteran women’s league player Cheryl Ring, 42. “It’s not a sissy day out on the field. It’s competitive but fun. We all support each other on the field.”
The long-running women’s football league has been around since 1984, and is rolling out its third season on the artificial turf at Goudy field in City Centre Park.
Most of the women say they play CFL-rules touch football for the exercise and for the endearing camaraderie that extends across all teams. Caitlin Dunahee, 20, was born into the sport — her mother’s been playing for 20 years.
“I grew up with it every weekend. When I was 16, I came out and gave it a try,” Dunahee says. “I find it really fun. I enjoy coming out to the field.”
Switzer, 33, says she was hooked at her first practice after her sister joined the league. “Really it’s just a lot of fun and a great workout.”
The seven-aside style of play involves plenty of passing and rushing, although under touch football rules, blocking isn’t allowed.
League vice-president Cindy Hett said touch football demands quick and agile players, with fast hands.
“You’ve got to play smart, you have to know the game,” she says. “I’ve been playing for 15 years and I’m now just getting a good grasp of the game. We’re always learning.”
Women aged 16 to 50 and beyond, at any fitness level, are encouraged to join. Ages and ability are mixed among league teams, expected at about eight for the 2011 spring season. The players are ecstatic to be on Goudy field — in past seasons they played on rutted fields that lent itself to knee injuries.
In an earlier era, the league fielded up to 16 teams, which fell to just a handful a few years ago. Eight teams is healthy, Hett says, but she would like to see at least two more.
“We’d love to get younger women out, we need younger women to keep the league going,” Hett says. That said, women can play the game until virtually any age – at 40 Hett expects to stay on the gridiron for another 10 or 15 years.
“I love the competition. This is my exercise. You get to run around like crazy,” she said. “Being on a team is like a family for sure. All the women support each other — they may be our competitors, but we’re all in the same boat.”
The Victoria Women’s Football League spring season starts March 12 at Goudy Field. See www.victoriawomensfootball.com to register or for details.