Powderpuff football, also known as women’s contact flag football, is one of the biggest extramural sports played at McMaster. On paper it may not seem like much, but the sport involves a great deal of skill, strength and the ability to run on snow and ice. Made up of about 119 girls split up into five teams, the extramural club’s season begins in January and runs for six weeks.
“This is the first year we have three new teams and two teams who have played for Mac before,” said club president Selena Paquin. “How it works is that whenever you join the club, the team you are put on is the team you grow and play with over the next number of years. Each team is assigned four McMaster men’s football players who volunteer their time to coach.”
Every season begins with an invitational weekend tournament at the University of Toronto, followed by an inter-squad tournament at McMaster that determines what top teams will travel to an overnight tournament at Wilfrid Laurier University. There is also an invitational tournament hosted by McMaster.
“Being able to grow with your team and meet new people along the way makes it one of those things that I will definitely remember for the rest of my life.”
The Laurier Lettermen Powderpuff Tournament is the last tournament of the season where over 18 teams from across Ontario compete, which is considered to be the provincial championships among the teams participating.
Last year the eldest of the two McMaster teams who attended the Laurier tournament came out on top taking home the tournament title and looked to do the same this past weekend. This year three out of five teams competed in the tournament: Mac Black and Mac Bloodhounds, two of the experienced teams, and Mac 3, a rookie team. Unfortunately for all three teams, none of them were able to defend McMaster’s title, despite Mac 3 making it to the semi-finals.
Although the teams were not able to take home the title, the memories made over the last several weeks will last a lifetime. For Paquin, being able to be in a club with women who all share her passion for football is an experience like no other.
“I’ve always loved football since I’ve gotten my love for sports from my mom, but growing up in London, Ontario I didn’t have a women’s football team in high school,” said Paquin. “After looking into it and signing up I had so much fun in my first year which is why I am still here three years later.”
Paquin credits being able to come back to her team, Mac Black, with the same coaches, and old and new teammates is something that makes the club unique.
“Being able to grow with your team and meet new people along the way makes it one of those things that I will definitely remember for the rest of my life,” Paquin added.
Women’s football gives many women who have given up competitive sports for one reason or another, an opportunity to play at a competitive level again. It is a great way to relieve stress, get active and redefine what it means to play football.
Although it is flag football, many people are surprised by the level of physicality and contact that the women bring to it. With a lot of the players having rugby, soccer and track and field experience, there is an incredible amount of talent on the field.
Flag football players still have to know the skills tackle football requires, such as passing, catching and blocking, and do this all in the freezing cold. It is not something everyone can do.
“When we instill confidence in our players they go out and play with such intensity. When you see that as a coach there is no better feeling.”
No one bears witness to the hard work these women put in more than their coaches. The members of the men’s football team who coach and even ref the games will be the first to tell you the level of intensity of the sport and why they take their coaching as seriously as they do.
“Their [men’s football team players] passion helps to grow ours,” said Paquin. “A lot of girls are interested in joining our club but they don’t know a lot about the sport, but the knowledge that the men share helps to teach us.”
She credits their passion for the sport also helping the women feel a sense of accomplishment and pushes them to want to play even more. “When we instill confidence in our players they go out and play with such intensity,” said coach of three years Devin Keeling. “When you see that as coach there is no better feeling.”
The season may be over for the women’s team as they end just in time for everyone to focus on their main priority — school — but the unexpected friendships made with people they may have never known without football is part of the reason so many women will return for years to come.