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Tempest ready to stir in Tampa

Women's professional league team begins play this weekend.

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By ROBYN DISNEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


TAMPA -- John Turner said that when he played football at the University of Miami in the late 1970s, he felt sorry for the women who played intercollegiate sports because of the few professional playing options they had after college.

"For soccer and basketball players, once you finished college, that was it," Turner said. "They would have to go to Europe just to play professionally. I never thought that was fair."

So when Turner was approached about helping start a football league for women, he quickly signed to coach.

Now the former Vikings safety is commissioner of the Women's Professional Football League, which began its inaugural season last week.

Last year, the "league" consisted of the Lake Michigan Minx and the Minnesota Vixens making an eight-city tour. This year the league has 11 teams, including the Tampa Tempest. The Tempest, which will play at Chamberlain High, starts its 10-game season Saturday at Minnesota.

The Tempest are in the National Division's South Conference, along with the Daytona Beach Barracudas and the Miami Fury. "We have grown so fast, it's hard to believe how far we have come in so little time," Turner said. "And we have only just begun."

Turner wants to expand the league to the West Coast. This year, a team from Hawaii will play three exhibition games, including one against Daytona Beach.

"We want to put a few teams in California and reach fans out on the West Coast," Turner said.

With a professional women's soccer league scheduled to start next year and the WNBA 4 years old, Turner said, it is time for women to play pro football.

"Timing is everything," Turner said. "People want to see women playing sports. It looks like the WNBA has staying power, and women's soccer has taken off. So why can't women's football do the same?"

Unlike other women's leagues, football has no feeder system. So most of the league's players have little playing experience.

That's where Tampa's Holly Hewlett comes in.

The Tempest coach and general manager was a defensive end at Edison High School in Philadelphia. In the past several weeks, she has taken women, some who struggled putting the equipment in the right places, and made them into a team.

"They are still learning," assistant defensive coordinator Walter Grant said. "But as a team they have picked up a lot of ground since Day 1."

Hewlett said the Tempest is behind the rest of the league because its previous general manager quit three months ago.

Turner said Hewlett's ambition will drive the Tempest to succeed.

"She's got a lot of energy," he said. "She wants her team to be competitive. She wants her team to be aggressive. She wants her team to win."

Hewlett said her players are self-motivating and intense.

"For most of these women, it is the first time they get to play football, so they have this pent-up energy," she said. "Those women are ready to kill someone."

They get their chance Saturday against the Vixens, who beat Colorado 14-12 last week.

Vixens general manager Miriam Rogers said Minnesota is one of the most experienced teams in the league.

"About 50 percent of our players played last season in the tour," she said. "And some of the others played rugby, soccer and basketball in college. So our players have become accustomed to playing an intense sport."

Though the Tempest do not have that experience, Hewlett said, it makes up for it in heart.

"In the six weeks we have been down here, the other teams have ignored us," Hewlett said. "So we have been conditioning and preparing for this day to come. "I have a ton of talent on this team, and we have pride and spirit. I will not doubt my team's desire to win."

Tampa Tempest

HOME FIELD: Chamberlain High School.

GAME TIME: 7:05 p.m., unless noted below.

CONFERENCE: National, South Division.

TICKETS: $15 for adults; $13 for students (with ID); $7.50 for 12 and under and 55 and over. Season tickets are $90. Call (813) 806-0951.

Schedule

Nov. 4 -- MIAMI

Nov. 11 -- at N.Y. Galaxy

Nov. 18 -- at Miami*

Nov. 25 -- at Daytona Beach* Dec. 2 -- MINNESOTA

Dec. 9 -- DAYTONA BEACH*

Dec. 16 -- at N.Y. Sharks (noon)

Dec. 23 -- DAYTONA BEACH*

Dec. 30 -- HOUSTON Jan. 6 -- Wild-card playoffs

Jan. 13 -- Division playoffs

Feb. 3 -- Championship game at Daytona Beach

*Conference game

What is a Tempest?

According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a tempest is a violent storm. According to the dictionary, a vixen, the Tempest's opening opponent, is a "shrewish ill-tempered woman" or a female fox.

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