Ready for some football

The Nevada Storm, Reno’s women’s football team, hits hard

The women of the Nevada Storm line up.

The women of the Nevada Storm line up.

The Nevada Storm opens its season in Bishop, California, taking on Eastern Sierra Mustangs on April 6. Their first home game is against the Utah Blitz on April 20 at Damonte Ranch High School. Kickoff is at 4 p.m.

Nevada Storm Women’s Tackle Football

A couple of months ago, as we were watching the Super Bowl, my 12-year-old stepdaughter Josephine said, in consternation and frustration, “Where are the girls? Why are there no girls?”

A few weeks later, I took her out to Golden Eagle Regional Park in deepest Sparks to watch the Nevada Storm, Reno’s women’s football team, practice. It was a cold evening, and we could see the players’ half-frozen breaths in the air as they slammed into each other. They were running drills and hitting hard.

The Nevada Storm is a real football team—not a lingerie squad or tag team—but a team that plays full-contact tackle football in the Women’s Football Alliance league. Last year, the team was the Independent Women’s Football League West Coast champions and was defeated by the Houston Energy in the national championship.

That’s right. The Nevada Storm is a local team that made it to a national championship last year. No joke.

The team has been around since 2010. It started out with just six players. Now, there are nearly 30. The team began as a nonprofit organization, became for-profit for several years, and, as of this year, is a nonprofit once again.

From the field, one of the players shouted toward Josephine: “Ready to come out and hit? Come on!”

Laura Getchell serves on the board of the team. She met Josephine and me at the field, and as we watched the action, I asked her about her role on the board. She explained she was involved with social media and community outreach. Many of the board members are also on the team.

“The president and vice president are out there playing,” Getchell said.

Getchell’s daughter, Sarah Colangelo, is also on the team.

“This is her second year,” Getchell said. “She was ’Offensive Player of the Year’ last year. They didn’t have enough players last year to have both an offense and defense, so she played both offense and defense. She was on the field for almost every play. … This year, we had a lot better turnout. We had players who actively went out and recruited.”

The team is a labor of love. Some players commute up from Sacramento. The team practices three times a week, plus semi-regular fundraiser events. The players pay membership dues to play. The team pays for insurance and to have a Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority ambulance at every game. The team members drive to games all over California and in Utah, Oregon and Las Vegas. They have to pay for hotel rooms, rental vans and equipment. They struggle to find fields—mostly at local high schools—to rent to host home games.

“Nobody is very welcoming,” Getchell said. “Well, Dayton was very welcoming, but that’s a long drive.”

Shannon Peed is a player on the team and serves on the board. She was a co-owner of the team when it was non-profit. She’s been on the team for eight years.

“This is my dream,” she said. “I’ve wanted to play since I was a kid. … There’s a camaraderie and passion that comes with football and the family that we have. … You have to put in so much time and study, and it’s like a game of chess. You can’t just be skilled and go play. … You have to do more than that.”

For Peed, the chance to play is worth any expenditure—of time or money or anything else.

“Finally I get the opportunity to play—and every penny is worth it,” she said. “You get to travel. You get a family. It’s buying into something that everyone else believes in.”

For her, it’s the fulfillment of one of her childhood dreams.

“I was throwing and catching a ball when I was 5 or 6. And I just thought I’ll be out here throwing and catching with my dad forever. I’ll never be on a team. And finally my dream came true. … If you want it, it’s like paying for college. If I pay for my own college, I’m going to go to class, right? If Daddy is paying for it, or even a scholarship, sometimes that’s not enough for people to get them there and motivate them to do it. But if I have to do all these things to get there, you better believe I’m going to go there and learn.”

Full contact

The president of the board, Carrie “C-Mack” Mackey, is built like what she is—a linebacker. She was a catcher for the University of Nevada, Reno softball team and has played roller derby, volleyball and basketball. She loves the full contact of football.

“You can get physical in basketball, but nothing like this, you know? Being able to see someone there, and you can just lay them out,” she said. “And what’s nice about this sport is it’s for every body size, for every body shape. You can be tiny. You can be big. We have a position for you in football. It’s not like volleyball—they all want tall, skinny girls.”

She said that common responses about the team include “Is it a lingerie league?” and “Girls shouldn’t be playing a contact sport like that.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” she said. “If the boys can do it, why can’t we? We’re playing against other women. We’re not playing against men right now. … Me, by myself, I’m as strong as a lot of guys, if not stronger. So, I don’t have a problem with it. I know other girls—they’re always up for a challenge.”

Mackey acknowledges that injuries are just part of the sport.

“I’ve had my fair share,” she said. “I’ve actually had two knee surgeries because of the sport. I’ve torn my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament], dislocated my knee, two meniscus surgeries. … I got old lady knees. I squeak, I creak, and sometimes I wake up the next day saying, why am I doing this? But it’s worth it. I’ve got a few years left.”

“Player safety is always number one,” according to the Storm’s head coach, Chris Garza. “We try to mitigate everything we can with the workouts that we do. We only use proven methods. We don’t teach anything that’s kind of crazy or those 1980s tackling drills or anything like that. We try to keep up with the times. Our coaches try to stay up to date with everything we can do to keep things safe.”

He also coaches a local high school boys’ team. “Coaching women is no different than coaching men,” he said. However, he said that he needs less of the drill sergeant approach he sometimes needs for high school boys, but that probably has less to do with gender than it does with age. The Storm players are all over 18.

“Once I got out here, I realized it was a treasure trove of athletes and a great opportunity,” Garza said. “I really hope we get more attention from our city and more help and encouragement from them. I’d like to see this as a bigger organization, with a team of 40 or 50 ladies wanting to play football.”

Ryia Grant is a rookie on the team. She was approached by Storm players because she played on the Reed High School team.

“Playing with girls is completely different than playing with guys,” Grant said. “The camaraderie is completely different. I feel more a part of this team than I ever did on the Reed team. … The world doesn’t—I don’t want to say that they don’t want to see girls playing football, but they don’t want to see girls in football pads. They want to see girls in a different way. And us saying, ’Hey, we can get out there and be just as tough as a bunch of boys.’ There is some of that us-against-the-world thing.”

For Grant, the biggest surprise about joining the Nevada Storm was the team’s dedication.

“I didn’t anticipate how intense it would be,” she said. “Actually getting on the field and being with the girls and the coaches—they’re very serious about it. That was a good surprise—a very good surprise.”