By Russ Crawford
The WFA held their championships on July 23rd and 24th at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. The stadium, located just across the street from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, also hosts the annual NFL Hall of Fame game, and so the women were playing on a big stage.
They made the most of their opportunity. The games were for the most part competitive contests.
The Division 3 matched the Derby City Dynamite against the AZ OutKast, both of which came into the game with 7 wins and 1 loss. The Dynamite, with the division’s best defense, defeated the division’s top offense OutKast by a score of 30 to 20. After the game, WFA commissioner Lisa King and Director of Operations Wyndy Dominy presented Angelita Furman, who scored two of the Dynamite touchdowns, and added a 2 point conversion, with the Game MVP award.
In Division 2, the Nevada Storm won their second championship in a row, separated by the season lost to Covid. The Reno team beat the Detroit Dark Angels 42-18. Detroit had scored first on a field goal, but the Storm’s offense, led by Game MVP Sarah Colangelo, and Jasmine Plummer (the subject of the 2008 movie Long Shots), was too much for the Dark Angels. As an added bonus for winning, football equipment supplier Xenith gave a $2,000 contribution to the winners, while the runner up received a $1,000 donation.
Those games took place on Friday, and on Saturday, the day of football began with the All American game sponsored by Xenith. In a game that featured crisp hitting, the National team defeated the American 23-6. The WFA chose the Dark Angels’ QB Mikayla Hilton as the National team’s MVP. The OutKast’s Jazmyne Reining was the American team’s MVP.
Then it was time for the Division 1 championship. The Minnesota Vixen had the chance to stop the Boston Renegades from winning their third championship in a row. They did not accomplish that goal, but not for a lack of effort. Vixen’s Game MVP Grace Cooper ran for 202 yards on 21 carries, scored 4 touchdowns. That was not enough, however, to stop the Renegade’s powerful offense that was led by Allison Cahill who the WFA chose as the Renegade’s Game (and the league’s) MVP. Cahill, who added her sixth championship ring at the end of the game, completed 21 of 32 passes for 218 yards and 3 touchdowns. Two of the scoring passes went to British import Ruth Matta, and Cahill capped the Renegades’ scoring with a 31 yard touchdown run. The final score was Boston 42 and Minnesota 26.
In addition to the games, the WFA also awarded several women with their Breaking Barriers awards. The league inducted honorees before the Division 1 game. Part owner of the Pittsburgh Passion, and NFL Hall of Fame member Franco Harris announced the women. They included:
- Jennifer King, the first black woman to be hired as a full-time running back coach for the Washington Football Team.
- Lori Locust, a full-time assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their Super Bowl championship season.
- Callie Brownson, the first woman full-time assistant coach in Division 1 college football at Dartmouth. Brownson, as an assistant for the Cleveland Browns, was the first woman to coach an NFL position group in a 2021 game against the Pittsburg Steelers.
- Andra Douglass, who owned the New York Sharks for nineteen seasons, during which they won 10 division titles, and 2 national titles. Douglas also wrote Black and Blue: Love, Sports, and the Art of Empowerment. Douglas also made the announcement that her book was being adapted for television.
- Viridiana Lieberman, the director of Born to Play, a documentary that followed the Renegades as they won the first of their current three-peat championships.
- Kathy Kuras, the director of Open Field, a documentary that chronicled the careers of Sami Grisafe, Katie Sowers, and other women as they won world championships and as Sowers moved on to the NFL.
The weekend was packed with football, and pageantry. Around a dozen of the seven-time WPFL and NWFL champion Toledo Troopers were also honored. The Troopers veterans had a good time mixing with the Renegades own colonial detachment that fired their muskets each time the Bostonians scored. Women from across the nation came as all-star players and fans, and the crowd was lively.
If you would like to watch the games in their entirety, they can be found on YouTube. The Breaking Barriers ceremony is also replayed at halftime of the Division 1 game.
In the four or years since I have been working on a history of women’s football, the visibility of the game has grown. Lieberman’s documentary appeared on ESPN during primetime in the spring 2020, and you can still watch it on Netflix and Hulu. Several women including King, Locust, and Brownson are coaching in the NFL. The Renegades rode to Canton on the New England Patriot’s airplane, the Boston Globe published an article about them, and their matchup against the Vixen was mentioned on ESPN. In addition, Cahill’s jersey and the game ball from the Division 1 championship will be displayed in the Hall of Fame. The Minneapolis Star Tribune featured a story on the Vixen. The mayor of Reno, NV declared July 28 as Nevada Storm Day. These, along with more stories, can be found either on the WFA Facebook page, or on individual team’s social media. This is a far cry from the situation that existed when I began researching this topic.
Women’s football is not through for the summer. The Women’s National Football Conference will hold their championship weekend on August 7 at the University of North Texas.
Russ Crawford is Professor of History at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. He is currently seeking a publisher for his project on the history of women playing tackle football in the U.S. and around the world. Along with several chapters on sport history, he has published two books. Le Football: The History of American Football in France was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2016. His first book, The Use of Sport to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1946-1963 was published by the Edwin Mellen Press in 2008.