Coaching an all-female professional football team is more rewarding than coaching men, said longtime football coach Norm Killion.
“The women actually listen to you,” said Killion, who is head coach of Madison Blaze and has coached football for 44 years, the last 10 for women. “They are more focused than the male gender.”
Killion ran drills Sunday at Veteran’s Park in Verona for the second day of tryouts for Madison’s full-tackle football team, which had a successful first season this summer, winning the Midwest Division title in the Independent Women’s Football League.
The team had 10 new recruits and 23 veterans at its Oct. 20 tryout/mini-camp in Sun Prairie, and five newbies and 23 returning players Sunday.
The team will hold two more tryouts: Jan. 12 and Jan. 26 at its winter practice facility, Champions International Baseball Academy, or CIBA, in
The team hopes to be outside by April 1, since its first game is in mid-April, said Tiffany Loomis, one of the team’s four female owners, who also plays wide receiver and linebacker.
There are three other teams in the Midwest Division: the Wisconsin Warriors out of Milwaukee, the Minnesota Vixen out of Minneapolis and the Iowa Crush out of Des Moines.
The Blaze’s league, the IWFL, is a nonprofit Texas corporation, founded in 2000 by a group of women hoping to get people to take the sport seriously.
The IWFL currently has more than 1,600 women playing the sport for 51 teams across North America and is rapidly expanding into new markets.
The league plays primarily by NCAA rules, said Pam Close, another player/owner. The women use a smaller ball because their hands are smaller, and there’s no blocking below the waist.
Sheena Hirschfield, 25, is in her third year of playing football and said with proper coaching, it’s not all that dangerous. “It’s knowing your fundamentals, like keeping your head up and on a swivel.”
Hirschfield, who works in support services at Meriter Hospital, said she’s loved football since fifth grade.
“It’s such an adrenaline rush. It’s unlike any other sport,” said Hirschfield, a soccer player for most of high school. “It’s just a whole ‘nother level.”
Kelsey Justin, 23, who is finishing a degree in rehab psychology at UW-Madison, is in her second season with the team. She said she’s always loved any type of flag football and has played all types of sports since she was young.
“I really fell in love with it right away. I love the physicality and being able to hit someone when you’re a girl. It’s a tough sport.”
The team traveled to Houston for the tier 1 playoffs in July, losing to the Houston Energy 30-0. Loomis compares tier 1 to the National Football League, the top level in the game.
Loomis credits coach Killion as being a big factor in the team’s success. “He brings the discipline, the knowledge of the game and high expectations on the field and off. He sets the bar for us in becoming something bigger than we are.”
Killion, for his part, calls winning the division championship rewarding in so many ways. “I like the idea of taking a piece of clay and working it into a piece of art.”