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Are you ready for some (female) football?

Oldham County athletes among
Louisville’s new ‘Karma’ team

By Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (November 2004) – The National Women’s Football Association, founded in 2000 by Catherine Masters, had 37 teams competing for a chance to play in its 2004 season championship game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.
In four seasons, this all-female, full contact, full tackle football league has expanded from 10 teams to 37 last season. League officials have signed a five-year contract with the Football Network, brought in Dickens Energy Cider as a three-year sponsor for the championship game, received media coverage from numerous sources ranging from CNN to Spike TV, and even produced the first-ever Women’s Football trading cards. In their next big move, the league is adding five new teams for the 2005 season.

Kentucky Karma

Photo by Don Ward

Some of the team members of the new Karma women’s football team staffed a booth at last summer’s Oldham County Day. They are (from left) Colleen Penny, Kimber Hampton, Lori Fitzgerald, Michelle Durham, Kathy Bailey and general manager Terri Haysley.

The Kentucky Karma, based out of Louisville, will be among these teams.
Head coach for the Karma, Tom Hawkins, was fazing himself out of his job as a football coach for Oldham County schools when asked to consider coaching the Kentucky Karma. He was ready to retire, ready to leave the football field behind for the golf course, but he realized the potential behind the program and could not refuse a chance to be involved.
“We are in the fundamental stages of this,” Hawkins said. “We are going to have to prove ourselves, and I have the full intention of doing so. I am blessed with a good staff and plan on really reaching out into the community to get people involved.”
Attendance at the 2004 championship game between the Detroit Demolition and the Oklahoma City Lightning, played at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, had a big turnout and, according to Hawkins, there are 44 women returning to the Karma in 2005 from the 2004 team. They were a team but not part of the league yet last year.
In addition to that number, nearly 100 women from southern Indiana and Kentucky contacted him regarding information about trying out for the team, which has a maximum 65 spots.
The women involved come from all walks of life, and nearly all of them have professional careers outside of sports. This is not a professional team; the women are not paid.
One of Hawkins’ goals, he said, is to get some kind of compensation for the ladies within the next three years. “They put their blood, sweat and tears into this just for the pure love of the game and the opportunity to do this.”
Many of the players live in southern Indiana and central Kentucky. They all put in long days and do lots of driving. As the team begins its season and gains publicity, Hawkins said he hopes that the ladies will not simply be recognized as a number and position but also as a neighbor.
Lori Fitzgerald is one player many throughout the area will likely recognize. She is an administrator in special education at the Board of Education who now lives in Louisville but has also lived in Madison, Ind., and taught special education at Trimble and Carroll County schools in Kentucky. She became involved when a friend in Michigan called to say that her football team would be playing in the championship game in Nashville, Tenn., (in 2003) and she wanted Fitzgerald to come watch.
She went to see the game and she became immediately hooked. When she read that a team was forming in Louisville, she tried out and made the team.
“Besides being a great way to use athletic skills, it’s a blast,” Fitzgerald said.
For three weeks in October, the team held tryouts, and will hold them annually from this point forward. Few players come into the league with full knowledge of the game, and interest ranges from those who just think it sounds fun to athletes who have reached the top competitive levels of their sport and are looking for a new outlet.
Offensive player Colleen Penny comes to the game with a background in field hockey, having played at Northern Illinois University and on the National Field Hockey Team. The full time mom says she enjoys the opportunity to get back into something competitive.
Some of the players love athletics but have no knowledge of football, while others have no athletic background but love the game of football, explained Fitzgerald.
The only thing that Hawkins requires is that his players have the willingness to work hard. The league requires that players be at least 18 years old, but there is no maximum age, and players on the league go well into their 50s. Many players, according to Penny, including herself, enjoy the fact that this is such a wonderful way to meet all kinds of people.
The game itself follows the same structure as the NFL. Women are in full gear and play a full contact tackle game on a 100-yard field.
“Girls may not hit as hard, but they have the same attitude as men, everyone plays hard,” Fitzgerald said. “Everyone at work knows when I’ve been playing football, I get bruises all over my arms.”
The only thing separating the women from the men in this game is the size of the ball. The women’s league uses a slightly smaller one that is easier for most of them to hold on to.
The season runs from April through July, with most of the games held on Saturday evenings. The Football Network will broadcast a “Game of The Week” and a weekly Highlight Show. The Karma will play eight games during the season and most likely one scrimmage before the season begins. Everyone involved is excited about this opportunity and is confident that people are going to come out to support and encourage the players, Hawkins said.
The Kentucky Karma will play its four home games at 7 p.m. Saturdays at Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Tickets will cost $10.
The reigning forces in the league expect the Louisville area to be a great market. If this proves true, the Karma could become a major attraction for locals and visitors alike. Hawkins plans on the Karma making it to the playoffs and to the championship game in Louisville.
“What an opening season that would be,” he said.

• For more information on the Kentucky Karma and the National Women’s Football Association, visit: www.womensfootballcentral.com or www.womensfootballassociation.com.

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