Kick up a storm

The Nevada Storm is Reno's full-contact women's football team

The Nevada Storm in action against the Utah Blitz.

The Nevada Storm in action against the Utah Blitz.

Photo/Eric Marks

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I’m not going to bury the lead here: Reno has a semi-pro, full-contact women’s football team. They’re called the Nevada Storm, and they’re a big group of tough ladies who really love football. They love it so much, in fact, that they spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket each season to remain active in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), the top tier of semi-pro women’s football. They don’t have a regular practice field or a huge fan base, but what they lack in support, they make up for in dedication and determination.

Sharon Seirer is a seasoned football player who has played for several semi-pro teams. “Usually when we say we play women’s football, everyone asks ’Is it the lingerie league?’ And it’s like, no, definitely not the lingerie league. We’re semi-pro, you know, we have uniforms, we have standards, we go by NCAA rules, there’s a couple of leagues, there’s thousands of women across the U.S. that play in the league.”

The Storm started as a 6-woman team a few years ago, playing only for kicks and a few family members and close friends. Steadily over time they have moved up the ranks, gaining players and coaches, moving into an 8-woman league, and finally into an 11-woman league in the West Coast division of the WFA, which is host to 64 teams across the country. Assistant coach Willie Seirer describes the league as “on the level of men’s baseball in the '20s and '30s. It’s road trips, there’s not luxury suites, there’s no airplanes flying anywhere, it’s get in the back of the van and go.” He suggests that this lack of luxury and grandeur creates a purer form of football.

“To my mind, it’s the purest form of the sport,” he said. “Nobody here is making money. They’re all here for the love of the game. They put in the hard work, they put in the knocks, they endure the injuries just for the love of the sport.”

Gathering Storm

Money to support the team comes solely from fundraising efforts, donations and out-of-pocket contributions from the players themselves. Rookies pay a $500 fee their first season and returning players shell out $400. The money covers basic costs like uniforms, referees for games, and field bookings. Players and coaches say the Nevada Storm could get a lot further in the league with more support from the community.

“We’ve got to build up a reputation and build up a rapport with the community,” said Brandon McGrath, the Storm’s head coach. “Hopefully [we can] get enough people to notice that it’s a fantastic sport and that they play hard and fast and fun and that it’s a good thing to spend 5 bucks on a Saturday to come watch a game.”

Expenses are not the only obstacles these women face while trying to make a name for themselves in football. For the most part, the team relies on word-of-mouth and social media outlets like Facebook for recruitment, which makes it difficult to get a good turnout to expand their ranks. Janine Bodo, a trainer for the team as well as a team member, said, “Reno is a lot smaller than the other places that we compete against, so getting a full roster of girls is another challenge.”

In addition, they are constantly vying with other recreationalists for field space as they do not have a permanent set-up for practice. “We have a hard time getting athletic directors to commit to letting us use their field. We don’t even have a regular field to practice on,” Willie Seirer said. “We share [practice space] with the people who come out to play soccer. Some days we get pushed off the field, we have to go to a different one.”

But it’s not all bad news for the Storm. There’s positive feedback coming from the community—at least from those who’ve heard of them. Megan Aguayo, a player on the team, describes some of the responses she’s heard. “Anytime anybody sees me in my shirt or hears that I play football, they have a ton of questions like, ’You mean you really wear pads and hit each other, like you play real football?' That is so cool!’”

Along with developing community interest in their team, the Storm has been working on strengthening their fundamentals and performance on the field. Bodo says many of the women who come out to play have little to no experience playing football. They “pretty much all started from the ground. … We’re still building, we definitely have a lot to build on.” She believes that even though they have some kinks to work out, their “dedication and work ethic on the field will pay off.”

The Nevada Storm recently played their first game of the season and while they suffered minor injuries and a loss, they feel like they came away with a stronger team identity and understanding of game play.

“We might have lost in the big picture, but we learned a lot and it was a good experience,” said Aguayo. “We learned a lot of little things—what worked and what didn’t work, how the line is against a certain defense and things like that.” She expresses hope for a growing following. “When I first started watching them play sixes and it was just players' immediate friends and family. It wasn’t a big deal. But last year, they almost sold out Sparks High School’s stadium so it’s grown tremendously. And I hope this year it grows even more.”

As it stands, in order to grow and improve as a team, they still have a way to go. The first order of business is finding a regular field to practice on. In the words of Willie Seirer: “If we raise community knowledge we can get some connection with some schools and we can get a regular practice field. It does make it hard sometimes to figure out where 5 yards is when you’ve got no lines.”

At the end of the day, the Nevada Storm is about playing football. Nobody makes any money. Most of the players’ choices to play are often at a cost to themselves. These ladies play the game for the sake of playing. The Nevada Storm is a 501c3 non-profit, which means that any donation to help keep the lights on is a tax-deductible donation. The team makes most of its money through proceeds from people actually attending their games. Ultimately, local participation is the largest factor to keep them in the running.

Their next home game is on Saturday, May 3, at Sparks High School at 6 p.m.