On a sunny afternoon, they fly around the football field with reckless abandon, leveling monster hits with their long locks blowing in the wind behind their helmets. It sounds like a certain all-pro Pittsburgh Steeler. In fact, the description also applies to members of the Keystone Assault Women's Full Contact Football Team.
Huntingdon High School graduates Jess Weir ('99) and Katie Runk ('01) are All-Americans on the Harrisburg-based semi-professional squad. Both were multi-sport athletes as teenagers, but are reveling in the opportunity to hit the gridiron - and hit opposing players.
"When we were growing up in high school, there was nothing like that for us," Runk said. "Football is America's sport, so it was something I really wanted to do."
Photo courtesy Samuel Getty
Jess Weir (18) and Katie Runk (right) combine for a tackle.
Both admit they knew little of the positions or plays when they first tried out for the team. How would they? The closest thing to organized football for girls of their generation was co-ed flag football, which they say just doesn't compare to the real deal.
"It was fun learning to tackle," Weir said. "Boys have been tackling since they were 5 years old, but to learn proper, safe forms have to be taught to women step by step."
Their coach, Tim Smart, has 15 years of experience coaching women's teams, including the national champion D.C. Divas. This is not your traditional coaching position, especially for a semi-pro squad. He's taking women who have excelled in sports from softball to basketball and turning them into safeties and linewomen.
"They just saw I was fast and could hit somebody, so they made me a safety," Katie said.
"I really enjoy actually being able to play the game," Weir said. "It's exciting to see the caliber of athletes coming out who have never played before. It's a whole other level being able to play the game and enjoy it."
The squad kicks off their season in April and plays through June as part of the Women's Football Alliance: an 11 division association of teams from around the nation. The Assault's home field is East Pennsboro Area High School in Enola, PA; appropriate, since most of the players got their first taste of football watching their classmates under the Friday night lights.
"In Huntingdon, half the town was there to watch high school football. It was the big thing. That atmosphere gets you to love the game, even college and the NFL, and now learning more about playing the game has made me even more interested."
The Assault recently held open tryouts, but the team is still looking for players to round out their 2011 roster. Katie and Jess encourage women interested in football to consider suiting up and taking your love to a whole new level.
"I just love to be able to hit somebody," Runk said. "And to take your aggression and emotions out on the field where you don't get in trouble for it."
For more information, visit the team's website: KeystoneAssault.com.
Perhaps their slogan says it best: "Some women follow their dreams, others TACKLE them."
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.