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Playing Tackle with the Women of the NY Sharks Football Team: Interview

Playing Tackle with the Women of the NY Sharks Football Team: Interview

I know for a fact that women play football—tackle football. The International Women’s Football League currently has over 1,600 women playing on 41 teams. Tier I is the best of the best with 19 teams in almost as many states. SheWired caught up with a four-year veteran of one of these teams, the New York Sharks. Say hello to starting center #74 Melissa Pickett…

I know for a fact that women play football—tackle football. The International Women’s Football League currently has over 1,600 women playing on 41 teams. Tier I is the best of the best with 19 teams in almost as many states. SheWired caught up with a four-year veteran of one of these teams, the New York Sharks.

Say hello to starting center #74 Melissa Pickett…

SheWired: You’ve been playing sports your whole life.

Melissa: Yeah, my whole life. At first it wasn’t even organized…just going down the block and playing [football] with my neighbors. I played softball recreationally and then during high school was throwing shot put and discus all year around. You do [sports] because you love it and I had to keep up with school—my parents wouldn’t have it any other way.

Did you wish then, that you could play football?

I went to an all-girls academy, so there was no room for football what-so-ever. We had a brother school two blocks down and we’d watch their games. In retrospect it wasn’t an option and I just accepted that. I did other things and that kept me busy because I wanted to be great at those other things. As I got older, I missed football.

By accident I heard that tryouts were happening in New Jersey and I felt like what do I have to loose? If they don’t want me and I’m not good enough and I’m rusty then I’m rusty and that’s that. It just kind of happened. It happened really fast to be honest: I didn’t plan it. I followed the team for maybe two or three years and I checked out scores and who they were playing and then I heard they were holding tryouts only ten minutes away and it just sort of happened. It was a lucky, right-time/right-place kind of thing.

I’m assuming that it was a little more than luck. You made the team, right?

I did. I did. I played the waiting game for two or three weeks. There were a lot of girls there. On any given tryout day they’ll have 15 to 20 girls come and about half make it. Unfortunately as the season goes into full swing and the practices pick up some people can’t handle the pressure. Things happen that they don’t expect. It’s football. It’s a hard sport. Especially if you haven’t played tackle football, it’s a completely different ballgame.

You have a job outside of football. How do you handle the responsibility?

The way I approach it is I take one day at a time literally. Most of the girls including myself have nine to five jobs that pay the bills. When I’m at work it’s full steam ahead and when I’m out of work I leave my job behind—and that’s the only way that I can do it. When I get out at five I have two hours to get to practice, and on that drive I get my head in the game--completely forgetting about the job because it will be there at nine a.m. Then from seven to ten it’s focus on the game. Practice is more important than people realize, because of the sport you’re playing. If you don’t focus someone could get hurt. If you don’t trust the person next to you it could be deadly.

Thinking about playing and injuries, what’s the average age that plays for the IWFL?

I’m 28 and I’d say most of us are late 20s, early 30s. Our oldest player is 45. She’s on the line. I hope to be half as healthy as she is at her age. We have a 20 yr old. We have a full range.

You were part of the USA All-Star Team that just got back from winning gold in the World Championship in Sweden. Congratulations. What was it like?

For training camp we all flew into Austin, Texas. That’s where our league headquarters is. We beat the heat and in a week we came together to be one solidified team—Team USA. Then we flew out to Sweden. It was nice. We didn’t have to worry about anything but football.

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What did you do to get together such a cohesive team to bring home the gold?

After you get over the initial feeling of feeling strange that you were playing against this person last weekend and now you’re next to them, learning the same plays—you just have to remember…I said this before…if nothing else it’s critical that you trust the person next to you. By the end of training camp it was not that we had to be one team, but that we wanted to be one team, because the girl that I was playing against last weekend is really amazing and I want to be her friend—and that’s what it thankfully turned into. It was really nice. There’s a world of football knowledge to learn from these women.

Talk a little more about how hard this tackle football league is. I can’t imagine how you prepare for the hitting.

I can tell you it’s a great stress reliever. Whatever you’ve got going on at home…whatever you’ve got going on at work. You want to say something to your boss and you can’t—well, wait two hours and your allowed to hit somebody and it’s legal. That’s how we treat it. We have to beat up on each other and that’s your friend. We aren’t just teammates…we go out and we’re social and we know each other’s families and kids. But it’s necessary to prepare for the game that’s coming up that weekend.

I’ll tell you it’s hard. I have to say that I want my teammates to give me the hardest tackle that they possibly can because I know that our opponents are going to get that on Saturday. You can’t take it personally, but sometimes tempers get hot and sometimes things happen. People get hurt. We have a medical staff and trainers that work with us and we soak in the tub when we get home. We do whatever we need to. I’ve always said normal people don’t play football. You play football because you love it. These women are amazing and they hit hard. It’s hard to explain unless you’re in it.

Are you a trash talker on the line? 

You know, I’m not. For me personally I play center and for me to lead my line I need to be able to know what watch of my girls are doing. I need to make sure I’m communicating with my quarterback and my running back. I try to take the leadership role, but it gets pretty fun and wild on the line—I can’t deny that.

I’m looking at your picture and you look like such a sweetheart. You have this big grin on your face. On your MySpace page you say you like things like musicals and kittens, and I’m thinking…she plays offensive line…please tell me she doesn’t gear up for a game with The Sound of Music on her ipod.

A lot a people have told me my face is a little deceiving, but I think that works to my advantage. I wouldn’t be a starting center if I didn’t hit hard.

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What’s your season like? 

Our season ends depending on how far we get into the playoffs. Our season just ended early July. Practices start right after the NFL season, so right after the Superbowl in February and then we have until the middle of April and that’s when our season starts.

I'd really like to  see some of your games next season, and hopefully can bring some friends. How do the  players feel about a bunch of lesbians cheering them on?

It’s a no-brainer. We love our fans. No matter where they come from or what they do in their personal life. That’s really the truth. The families of all our players are all very different. Many of us have husbands; some of us have wives or girlfriends so we’re a really diverse bunch. I think we’d have too much of a good time if you brought your friends over. It would be awesome. We have an after-party after the games. We’re at Aviator Stadium. It used to be an Air Force base. We don’t have to drive after the game. Everything is on site, and there is a bar and we order pizza. Are you kidding? If we ever had a game and they didn’t feed us and give us beer there would be a riot. Please come. We’d have too much fun.

There you have it, ladies. An open invitation to check out The New York Sharks Professional Women’s Tackle Football team. For schedules, tickets and team member bios go to Not near New York? No problem. There are many teams to choose from. Just check out this website for all the league’s teams:

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Helen Wortham