Lowell Park lit up on Monday night for its weekly football practice. Children riding their bikes stopped to join the drills on the sidelines. Neighbors paused as they watched receivers and cornerbacks fight for the ball. But they aren’t watching just any football team.
They’re watching the Oakland Banshees, the premier women’s tackle football team in Oakland.
The Banshees, who lost their first game of the season last Saturday to two-time national champions the Sacramento Sirens, have high hopes for their fifth season.
The team is a member of the Independent Women’s Football League, a non-profit organization founded five years ago by a group of women who wanted to make the sport a household name. There are currently 21 teams across North America. The Banshees have been participants in the league since its founding.
They face a tougher schedule this year than they did last year, but with returning coaches and a positive attitude they expect big things. “We have to feel that there’s a future here now if we want to have a future later. And we do,” said Jamee Viola, who has played on the Banshees offensive line for three seasons.
The Banshees, who finished first in their division last year, hope to see the playoffs again.
But it’s not all fun and games. Many of the players, who are students, professionals, mothers, and significant others, on top of being nationally ranked athletes, drive long distances and put in extra hours just to play the game they love.
Even though sponsorship is on the rise, each woman still pays for gear, travel arrangements, and hotel reservations for away games out of her own pocket. “We have to come out and pay just for the love of the game – and even just to have a game,” said Neda Mohammadi, a second year linebacker for the team.
Progress comes little by little, acknowledge the players. “I hope one day that, just like the WNBA, that it’ll get to the point of being on TV and having media attention and getting people out to our games,” Mohammadi said.
The Banshees see a promising future for the IWFL, hoping to watch their game grow each year. Ultimately, they would like to have their scores posted in the media and an increase in sponsorship. This season, players expect an improvement in support, after becoming the first team to sell tickets through Ticketmaster and increasing their promotion efforts.
Their new home at Chabot College in Hayward will also help, allowing people to have a home field to watch their favorite players and continue to increase their fan base. “I think there are more and more younger girls coming up. They’re eyes just get big with excitement when they see us play,” said Viola.
The women are grateful to play a game many of them thought they never would. “There’s something about walking on the field with a football team rather than a soccer team or a basketball team. It’s like you’re going into battle together,” said Viola. Mohammadi agreed. “It’s all for the love of the game,” she said.
For more information, please visit www.oaklandbanshees.com.