BRIDGING THE LAST GENDER GAP 

BRIDGING THE LAST GENDER GAP

"Emily, Emily Bays!" I stepped forward. "Are you going to try to improve your time?" It was quite obvious to me that this woman was either insane or eternally hopeful. I was sure that the first 40-yard sprint had done permanent damage. And she was asking if I wanted to do it again? The day was Saturday, April 7th; the place was East High football field, and the time was 11 a.m. I had spent the past hour and would spend the next hour trying out for the Memphis Maulers, the Independent Women's Football League (IWFL) team. I was hung over, still wearing a hospital-style “alcohol is ok” bracelet from the party that had ended only hours before, and trying desperately to find the intrinsic value in running forward, sideways, and backward around cones. But at least I was getting some exercise, (however much pain it would cause me the next day.) And the concept -- NFL-rules football for women -- fascinated me. Despite having always considered football as a dumb game, when I read about football for women, I knew I had to at least experience tryouts. I hung back with my potential teammates, as each one of us endured time trials and various drills designed to assess our skills and abilities. The pool of applicants consisted of approximately 30 women, high school to mid-thirties. Representatives from the Austin Outlaws, the first IWFL team, and their coaching staff were running the tryouts. We went through all the usual drills, from neck stretches to a drill that reminded me of the two-person wheelbarrow, during which we lumbered across the field on hands and feet. Maulers organizer Tiffany Ross explained what it would mean to be on the team-- practices 3-6 hours per week, weekend travel to games, fund-raisers, community service, and the initial investment for our pads, helmets, and uniforms. At one point we were asked what position we were interested in playing, at this moment I realized that despite my having attended at least a hundred football games in my lifetime, I had no idea what a fullback was and what they did. But cheerfully pushing these pitfalls aside, I persevered. After all, I was there not only for the tryouts, but for the story also. The temperature started to climb, and the TV crews asked to talk with someone with a "girly" job. One woman-- a kindergarten teacher-- was deemed the perfect candidate, but she declined-- she didn't want to risk intimidating her young students. While waiting for my turn for yet another running drill, I chatted with the other women. “I'm not here to run-- I want to be a linebacker,” one college student remarked. Though I wasn't exactly sure what a linebacker was, if it didn't involve running then I was up for it. I got the impression that, especially this first season, every woman meeting the physical requirements and willing to make the commitment to the team would have a place with the Memphis Maulers. We're holding a fund-raiser this Wednesday, something entitled "Pass the Helmet." I guess I'll have to get a helmet, to add to my biking, climbing, and roller-blading helmets. Our first game is scheduled for the middle of May, against the infinitely more organized Austin Outlaws, who have been practicing since last summer. The last chasm to the man's world will soon be bridged. But do I really want to cross that bridge?

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