By Sharon Gittleman
HARPER WOODS – When Trina Chatfield was a teenager at her small private religious school, she dreamed of the thrill of rushing down the field past the goal-posts to the cheers of the crowd.
Fate had another plan in store for her.
“I was a cheerleader, that’s all my school offered,” she said. “I was so upset about that. They only offered basketball for the boys and cheerleading for the girls.”
Today, Chatfield is the co-owner of the Detroit Blaze with Sieata Duhart. The Blaze is Detroit’s entry in the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL). The IWFL is a full-tackle women’s football league founded in 2000. So far, there are 25 teams across North America, as well as four exhibition teams. Detroit is currently an exhibition team.
“They want to minimize our traveling costs. We need more teams near us before we stop being an exhibition team,” said Chatfield. “The only difference is we don’t get to go to the playoffs and the championships.”
The Blaze was formed in February 2002.
“Women have always wanted to play football,” she said. “They played in the streets with their older brothers but they never had the chance to play at high school or for professional football.”
Chatfield and Duhart hope to give metro-Detroit women that chance.
“I assure you once you see a game and see them in pads and hit, you won’t be able to tell they are women on the field. These women are tough,” she said.
“You know the old insult, ‘Your mom’s a linebacker?’ Well, now, it’s true and we can be proud of it.”
Chatfield doesn’t fit the customary picture of a professional football team owner.
When player Tammy Vamvas had an injury on the field and couldn’t finish the game, Chatfield came to the team’s rescue.
“I took my uniform off and Trina put it on and ran out and played on the field,” said Vamvas.
Vamvas, 37, plays for the Blaze with her partner Cyndi Krajewski, 36.
“I heard (Blaze co-owner) Sieata talk about the team on the radio. I said, ‘Cyndi, let’s try out.’ We tried out the same day and I made the team as starting quarterback,” she said.
“I said to myself, why couldn’t they have had girl’s football when I was 20? But I thought, the heck with it, I’m going to do it no matter what my age.”
Vamvas said football is an intense sport.
“There’s so many things people don’t realize you have to remember. You need to memorize the plays, the positions and check out the defense. It’s a mental game big time,” she said.
“I love throwing the ball and making the perfect pass. It’s just so pretty.”
Vamvas comes from a family of football fanatics.
“I have five brothers and two sisters. My dad used to play college and high school football. My mom hated when football season was over. When a game was on TV, you could hear her yelling at the set in the other room,” she said. “One of my brothers recently called me up from Kentucky and said, ‘Make sure you run, we want to see you run with the ball.'”
Vamvas’ partner said she was a competitive speed skater and played basketball in high school.
“I remember when women first tried pro-basketball 12 years ago. That didn’t fly the first year. They had women in spandex. Now, women are playing pro basketball just like men,” said. “I think our society has allowed things to change. Girls are only asking for a chance.”
Jillian Stelma, 18, a straight member of the Blaze, played defensive tackle on her high school team alongside teenage boys.
“Some of them gave me a hard time but they got over it,” she said. “People don’t pay attention to women’s sports. But, I think we’ll be known because we have a great team and we will win.”
Blaze fan Leslie Thompson enjoyed watching the team play in their first year on the field.
“I’d really like to play for them if I weren’t 45,” she said. “There are some pretty butch women on the field.”
Thompson played football in college for four years.
“To see something I longed for 20 years ago happening was really exciting,” she said. “They took hard hits when we watched them. They were giving 110 percent. They aren’t out there for the $1 million contracts or the sports endorsements. They are out there to play the sport – for the love of the game.”
Thompson did notice one difference between women’s and men’s professional football.
“There were kids going to the sidelines and calling out for their mommies,” she said.
The women playing for the Blaze range in age from 18-43. Chatfield said her team is looking for more players. If you would like to fulfill your dream of playing professional women’s football, come to the team’s practice held from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday and Friday at Oak Park High School and ask for a tryout.
The Blaze will begin its 2003 season this March.