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Reporter puts it on line in women's tryout

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

You might have read about Times writer Keith Niebuhr's practice with the Citrus football team. He's not the only one who has a better appreciation for the sport after putting on the pads.

In August of 2000 while living in New York City, I tried out for the New York Sharks of the Women's Professional Football League. The tryout was billed as an NFL-style combine, and no equipment was necessary. That was good because women's designer cleats were not sold at Bloomingdale's. From the city, I took the train to Cow Meadow State Park, which should have been my first hint this wasn't going to be the big time. That and the $25 tryout fee.

The Sharks played an exhibition the previous year, when they were coached by ex-FSU and New York Jets player Bobby Jackson. Most of the members from that women's team were at the tryout I attended, and had experience on a Long Island flag football squad.

Management was seeking athletes or former college players in any sport for the inaugural season, and the women who arrived looked the part. It seemed everyone was from Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx. This nice Midwesterner didn't stand a chance, I thought.

We began with push-ups and sit-ups, then moved to the 40-yard dash and agility drills. The results were timed and recorded, along with our heights and weights.

I finally admit to being 5-foot-6, after years of volleyball coaches bumping me to 5-8 and a laughable 5-9 on rosters. Even then, I would have been a runt next to some of these football players.

I'm a sturdy girl, but no way was I going to go up against a 6-foot, 200-pound linewoman. So I knew what positions I would try out for -- quarterback. In college, a boyfriend and I used to throw the ball, and his friends said I had a nice arm.

When we lined up for drills, one of the other players shouted: "Move it, Blondie!" I doubt Terry Bradshaw heard comments like that even when he had hair. The QB spot looked taken anyway, so I set my sights on being a receiver. I caught most of the balls thrown my way, but there were a couple players who didn't drop any.

Much of the tryout is a blur, but the bruises and stiffness lasted several days. All the women were pretty talented, and I almost wondered if I would make the team at all. About a week later, I got an e-mail invitation to the Sharks' mini-camp, but by then had decided to move back home. I'm not sure if they would have cut anybody anyway.

That year, the Sharks went 5-2 in the regular season and lost to the New England Storm 10-7 in the playoffs. When recently checking the website, I saw that the Sharks finished 9-0 this year as members of the Independent Women's Football League, capturing the championship in July. Among other highlights in the fledging club's history was that Anna "Tonka" Tate was interviewed by Regis Philbin on national TV.

I missed my shot as a pro athlete. But I still can be found on a football field -- on the sideline, where myself and perhaps every other sportswriter belongs.

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