Not about to let COVID-19 halt their forward progress entirely, girls are getting back on the gridiron in Edmonton.
And, understandably, while their numbers are lower than expected following a successful foray into Capital District Minor Football Association play over the past two years, the All Girls Tackle football program is ready to blitz through a shortened summer schedule over the next month.
And amid all the cancellations and postponements sports have endured over the past four months, just getting back onto the field at all is worthy of a touchdown dance.
“With our spring programs and everything that we had to cancel, having our girls season cancelled was really the hardest thing to cancel because we had seen such growth,” said CDMFA technical director Tanya Walter, who was hired in January to oversee the non-contact and female leagues. “Last year, we had 46 girls registered, and this year we were nearing 150 for our season that would have happened this spring.”
In economics terms, that’s an uptick of 225 per cent over the first year.
“We had just this massive growth for the spring season and the girls were just heartbroken it was cancelled,” said Walter, who approached the association in 2018 with a focus on building teams for girls, who play on mixed teams in the younger age groups, but tend to leave the sport later on.
Now, girls aged 13-18 have their own minor football divisions, while the Edmonton Storm senior women’s team Walter plays on, has bumped its age limit from 16 to 18.
And while provincial regulations restrict return-to-play efforts to 50-person cohorts across all sports, which is having an effect on football teams from bantam level on, the younger age groups and the all-girls league play with fewer players on the field.
“It works really good because the girls already would only have been playing six a side,” said Walter, who three years ago, won silver with Team Canada at the International Federation of American Football women’s world championships on home soil. “So the numbers on that kind of work out well and it’s not actually changing the sport for them.”
The three-week schedule is set to kick off Sunday, July 12, and run through July 25, and include six teams of 12 players in two different cohorts.
“So we’re sitting pretty good for numbers and I know some clubs have had to start saying no to people,” said Walter. “We could get the fields and could probably get a third (cohort), but a problem a lot of the clubs are running into are not having enough coaches. Especially when you have a lot of coaches who would have crossed over between girls and bantam, but you can only coach one team right now.”
While this season will be short and sweet, Walter said it is important to continue to give girls an option to play football outside of high-school teams, which can be intimidating.
“When I presented it to the CDMFA, my big thing was that older age group,” Walter said. “There are some that play high school, but they don’t get the playing time. It’s good for them to practise and be around it, but it’s just not the same. And at that age, it does start to become a bit of a safety issue and parents get a little bit weary.
“But at atom and peewee, I think it’s almost better that the boys and girls get to play together. I think a big part of the sport growing is having boys be able to see girls playing football with and against them. And even in high school too, that’s where the respect is going to be there and that awareness instead of if you just have a girls league that can kind of get shadowed.”
But with the high-school seasons up in the air for the fall, and other minor divisions adjusting to new regulations, the all-girls squads will get to enjoy the spotlight this summer – however briefly.
“It’s nice to have something,” Walter said. “We didn’t have a lot of graduating players, only about 11, but to give them one last hurrah is good.
“I think a lot of them will go on to play women’s after, but some of them play other sports or will go other places.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge