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A League of Their Own

A new women's football team is trying to make its mark in Memphis.

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I recently received an intriguing press release about the Memphis Rockers, a new women's tackle football team. The team was reorganizing with a new coach and a new name. And -- they were looking for players.

I decided to try out.

Growing up with three brothers, I had seen enough football to be pretty proficient in the rules, plays, and strategies of the game. I had watched The Longest Yard, Rudy, and Remember the Titans. "How hard could it be?" I thought. Early Saturday morning I found out.

"You don't have to be the best at throwing and catching," said Rockers general manager and head coach Ray Tarkett. "As long as you have the heart and are committed to playing, we'll teach you the rest." On this particular morning -- the third of four tryouts held for the team -- only one other new recruit showed. (About 20 women had shown up for the previous tryout, and with the mild weather, the coach was expecting a better turnout.)

While we waited for more jockettes to show up, I asked Tarkett a few questions: How many teams are in the league? Six. How long has the league been in existence? Three years. How many women have already made the team? Five. How much do we get paid? Nothing, yet. In fact, a $45 registration fee is collected from players to help pay for the team's license fee from the league. The league is nonprofit, with sponsors hopefully covering expenses.

The age limit for players is 18 to 35. The other woman trying out was named Yolanda, a children's services caseworker and police academy candidate who was a lean, mean, athletic machine. She was, however, 39. "No problem," said Tarkett.

Tarkett was joined on the field by assistant coach Tony Powell. Both men live in Rutherford, Tennessee, and make the four-hour round-trip to Memphis and back for each tryout. In the Women's Football League, players are not the only ones going without paychecks. Coaches aren't paid either.

The morning began with a timed 40-yard dash and assurances that the day would not include tackling or pads. Yolanda went first and posted a decent time. Thinking my youth, longer legs, and recent home-video aerobic workouts would guarantee a better time, I stepped confidently to the line. Forty yards and a pounding heart later, I got the bad news: My time was much slower than Yolanda's. "You probably weren't warmed up yet," she encouraged me. "Try it again a little later." Sure, that'll happen.

Timed cone drills were next. My agility was a little better, but my muscles were aching. Tarkett and Powell preached sacrifice and commitment, so I pushed on.

Later in the morning, we were joined by the team's quarterback, a woman named Amanda. The 25-year-old science teacher from Greenville, Mississippi, bounded over, ready for action. "Sorry, I'm late," she said. "I made a wrong turn and my usual two-hour trip here turned into three hours. Let me do a quick warm-up, and then we can go through some drills."

My warm-up consisted of 10 repetitions of an orange-juice bottle to my mouth, followed by stretching to tie my shoes, with a twist of the wrist to start the car for a finale. Amanda's warm-up: a half-mile around the track, calisthenics, and a 40-yard dash (for which she posted the best time).

Amanda had the goods. She zipped the ball like a pro. We began throwing-and-catching drills -- learning pass routes and taking handoffs. I lined up at safety as Yolanda played receiver. Hoping to demonstrate my athletic prowess and newly learned back-pedaling skills, I waited for the count. As Yolanda ran the route, I covered her like a glove until a painful stiff-arm to the face ended my defense. Still, Tarkett offered me a spot on the team, citing my "good spirit" and "agility." Still grimacing from the blow, I decided that football for me would remain a spectator sport.

After practice, I was approached in the parking lot by two women who played in another female league. They tried to recruit me.

"No thank you. I'm not very good," I told them.

"You don't have to be able to catch and throw as long as you want to work," they assured me. I'd heard that before. Those words had led to a bruised lip and ego. "Sorry, you'll have to find someone else."

The inaugural WFL season begins May 1st. Tarkett is still searching for a home game field -- and more players to fill the roster. Wherever they play, tickets will be $10, and I'll certainly be in attendance when the Rockers take the field. I'll be able to say, "That's my team." Even if it's just from the sidelines.

The next WFL tryout will be Saturday, March 13th, at East High School. For more information, call 731-855-4374.

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