Its not just a mans game
Two local women play full-contact football with the Fighting Fillies
It started as a way of keeping in shape. And now two local women are passionate about womens full-contact football.
They play for the Portland Fighting Fillies, a Milwaukie-based full-contact football team that competes in the Womens Football Alliance.
They are 35-year-old Christy McAtee, a technical writer for Xerox who makes her home in Milwaukie; and Jayne Johnson, a 32-year-old woman from Clackamas who is between jobs.
Ill keep playing as long as my body can take it, McAtee said.
Im hooked. Im going to play as long as I can, echoed Johnson.
This is no powderpuff style football. The young women wear pads, they play by NFL rules, and when they hit, they hit hard.
Its full-contact football, said Fighting Fillies head coach Asia Wisecarver. Its as physical as any other type of football....
I think people are surprised the first time they come to a game. I talked with someone in the stands after our first game and they said, I didnt realize you played that hard.
I really like the team atmosphere of it, Johnson said. I love the physicality of it. Theres nothing better than going out there after a bad day and tackling someone.
And Johnson, a lineman, knows what its like to hit and get hit. She joined the team this year and she is already sidelined with an injury.
I broke a bone in my foot [in early March], but I put off going to the doctor because I wanted to play, Johnson said a month later. Hopefully Ill be back playing the beginning of May. I miss it a lot.
I do it because Ive always loved the game, McAtee said. In grade school, Id play with the boys at recess, and me and my dad would toss the ball in the backyard....
I like the challenge. I like being a part of a team.
McAtee, who has been with the Fillies since 2009, explained how she got started with the team: I hadnt played sports in years and I was looking for something to do to get back in shape. I came across the Fillies on craigslist.
At the time, I had no idea womens full-contact football existed, and I jumped on it. I was a little scared at first. But its awesome!
Johnson, explained how she got started: I used to love playing intramural flag football in high school [in Spokane]. My husband [Jason Johnson] came home with a business card from one of the coaches. I went to their website, and I was hooked.
On the website it says, Empowering women, one yard at a time. I wanted to be a part of an organization that held the idea of strengthening women within themselves as a core value. And I have not been disappointed.
Johnson, like McAtee, says she had been away from physical activity for a number of years and had been interested in finding something to do to get back in physical condition.
So how do McAtee and Johnsons family members feel about their playing full-contact football?
My husband thinks [my playing full-contact football] is the coolest thing...., Johnson said. Its the highest level you can go [in womens football]....
My parents think Im nuts. They think Im crazy. But they say they are going to come to some of my games.
My parents are very supportive, as far as coming to watch me play, McAtee said. But they dont want me to get hurt. Each year, when the seasons over, they ask me, Are you sure you want to play again next year?
McAtee says that so far, knock on wood, she hasnt been injured, except for a sprained ankle and lots of bumps and bruises.
McAtee, who competed in softball, basketball, track and field and cross country in high school and college, studied computer information systems at Southern Utah University.
Johnson competed in basketball, softball, soccer and gymnastics, and she holds a bachelor of science degree in the behavioral sciences from Canadian University College. She says she is hopeful she can land a job that involves helping people, possibly in law enforcement.
While Johnson, because of her injury, has yet to play in a game, McAtee was a star player for the Fillies last year, when she was honored as a first-team All-American for her play at tight end and linebacker.
Her nickname is Mac, because shes just like a Mac Truck, said Wisecarver. She hits hard.
She is one of my favorite players to watch men and women. Shes always where the ball is. She gives great pass protection, and she catches anything within five yards.
Wisecarver says of Johnson, Shes a pretty tough girl. She has a great work ethic. She is one of our football players who looks like a football player. Shes big, she looks strong, and she is strong....
I have total faith in her becoming a great football player one day.
Playing for the Fillies requires quite a commitment. Beginning in early January, the team practices three days a week. April through the end of June, when they have games, the commitment is four days a week. And with success in postseason, the season can continue to the championship game, in August.
The Fillies program also stresses community involvement. Theyve put on youth clinics, done food drives to feed the hungry, and in February of this year they did a polar plunge into the Columbia River to benefit Special Olympics.
Were always looking for ways to give back to the community, McAtee said.
The team also does car washes, garage sales and other fundraisers to help cover expenses.
The young women dont get paid to play the game they love. To the contrary, they pay $500 a year to play, and players must have their own insurance to be a part of the team.
The team has had its share of success on the playing field. The Fillies went 5-3 on the 2012 season.
McAtee scored on a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rebekah Chee in this years WFA season opener, a 42-0 shellacking of the Tacoma Trauma, a game played at Milwaukie High School in early April.
I dont think Ive played any sport that was this team-oriented, McAtee said. You really have to work together. Our motto this year is One heart, one beat, one team.
The Fillies next home game, with the Everett Reign, is scheduled for Milwaukie High School at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 4. The Fillies host Portland Shockwave at Milwaukie High at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 26.
Upcoming away games are set for May 11 at Tacoma Trauma; May 18 at Utah Blitz in Salt Lake City, Utah; and June 8 at Everett Reign.
McAtee says that the Fighting Fillies are always looking for new players.
Our players have very diverse backgrounds, Wisecarver said. Weve got women in social work, in the corporate world, lawyers, stay-at-home moms. A vast variety.
Coach Wisecarver, when she isnt coaching football, is a team leader and mentor at Friends of the Children, a nonprofit mentoring organization that serves at-risk youth throughout the Portland Metropolitan area.
Wisecarver encourages women who think they may be interested in joining the Fighting Fillies team to contact her directly at 503-853-1919.
Practices are at Milwaukie High School from 7 to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and at 7 p.m. Fridays when there are Saturday games, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, when there is no Saturday game.