By Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
SANDY — When people suggest 44-year-old mother of three Louise Bean might find something more useful to do with her time than play semi-pro tackle football, she knows what’s really going on.
“If they say that, they’re wishing they had something for themselves,” said the quarterback who will lead the Utah Falconz as they play for the Independent Women’s Football League’s Western Conference Championship Saturday at 5 p.m. “It’s just totally fun. I love the technicality, the strategy and the whole mental aspect.”
Saturday’s championship game will feature the undefeated Falconz and the undefeated Austin Yellow Jackets in a title game that starts at 5 p.m. Falconz head coach Rick Rasmussen said the team has the most players of any team in the league, but they’re also physically the smallest squad.
“This is a sport that really relies on dedication,” Rasmussen said. “And I’m blessed because we have 50 very dedicated girls. We have a coaching staff that knows what we’re doing, so the outcome should go our way more than it shouldn’t.”
He said the coaches work very hard to create a situation where the players can succeed.
“I think the goal is to create the environment so they can learn how to be successful,” he said. “Wins and losses are the best measure of that success. We’ve scored 516 points and we’ve given up 22. So the players have definitely gotten their assignments down and they take it very serious.”
Bean knows some might see her dedication to a game that many people don’t even know women can play (and others think they shouldn’t) as frivolous, but that doesn’t matter to her or her teammates.
“I get camaraderie, friendships and a thrill,” she said of why she plays football for the undefeated Falconz.
Bean said some of what motivates the team is last year’s only loss, which came in the national championship game.
“It’s not easy to get to the championship,” she said. “I think a lot of people would have retired, but they thought, ‘We’ve got to do this again.’ You want to finish on a good note, especially because we put a lot of effort, time and money into this. You don’t want to feel like you left something unfinished.” The players said they listen to a range of reactions when people find out they play tackle football in a semi-pro league.
“Oh, you play in the lingerie league?” said running back Keeshya Cox of the most common response, while her teammates laugh. “What? I didn’t even know that was a thing.”
Air Force Lt. Emmy Raney, 24, plays safety and kicker and said she loves the strategy required by football.
“Normally people are really surprised and have no clue there are any women’s football teams anywhere,” he said. “A lot of fans come out not knowing what to expect honestly, and then they love it.”
Lyndi Prestgard, 27, linebacker, said the most common reaction she gets is surprise mixed with disbelief.
“The first reaction when I tell them I play football is, ‘Oh, you play soccer?’” Prestgard said. “And then it’s, ‘You mean you actually hit people?’ Yes, I hit people. For the most part, people are really supportive.”
What persuades them is coming to watch a game. Rasmussen said the women win fans of good football over with their commitment to football fundamentals, athleticism and entertaining atmosphere.
“I think most people don’t believe that women can compete at the high level they do,” said Rasmussen, who coached high school before taking on the women’s semi-pro team. “They should come out and see it because it will definitely change their minds. The way our team executes … it’s remarkable. It’s a great game. It’s really fun to watch.” For 33-year-old center Quinn Wesley, playing with the Falconz fulfills a life-long dream.
“I had always wanted to play, but I didn’t know it was an option,” she said. “I love to stay physical; I love football. And I love to be a part of this. It’s not just football, it’s a family. I know that no matter what, 50 women are behind me, and I love that.”
For Cox, the rewards come every practice, every game, regardless of the score.
“Joy,” she said of why she dedicates so much time, energy and money to playing semi-pro tackle football. “Pure joy.”
The Falconz have golf tournament on July 16 to raise money for the trip they hope they will be taking to the national championship game in two weeks. The tournament is a four-person scramble with an 8 a.m. shotgun start and plenty of awards. An individual can play for $125 or a foursome for $500. To sign up, donate or for more information on how to participate or support the team, email Samantha Smith-Meek at email@example.com or call 801-949-3868.