Housewife, Singer, Model Among Those Tired of Just Watching Men Play Football : 34 Women Team Up to Tackle Machismo

Times Staff Writer

Teresa Ray is willing to sacrifice a few teeth. Jill Sturdivant is not above losing her fingernails. Denise Boyce doesn't care what her daughter thinks. Becky Smith just wants to blow off a little steam. And what's another whiplash injury to Lisa Reson, who says she's already had 11, not to mention a cracked tail bone?

They want to play football. Not touch or flag, either.

Tackle football. Against men. Well, young men, anyway.

Sturdivant, 27, a pop singer from North Hollywood and an admitted football junkie, is assembling a women's team that she hopes will be able to put together a full season of games next fall against boys' teams from junior and senior high schools.

Ray, Boyce, Smith and Rosen are part of the original group of 34 that signed up last month after answering a newspaper ad that promised "big fun."

Only the hearty need apply.

"We have to start at the beginning," said Ray, 34, who works for a management company, "and it takes an awful lot of determination to do that, especially knowing that the end result is probably getting your teeth knocked out."

Injury considerations aside, the group met at a Universal City restaurant two weekends ago for its first team meeting.

Sturdivant, who roomed with four football players in college and is now married to an assistant football coach at Valley College in Van Nuys, announced that the team will practice twice a week, beginning Feb. 3.

The L.A. Scandals, who are still looking for new members, hope to play their first game in May against an men's team from Womphopper's restaurant in Universal City, whose players, Sturdivant said, "think they're the baddest thing since Clint Eastwood."

Added Sturdivant, with a smile: "We're taking on the macho image of America here."

What motivates these women, who range in age from 19 to 38 and in size from 5-1, 105-pound Nora Kelly to 5-9 3/4, 270-pound Emily Dole?

A T-shirt worn by Denise Boyce, a 38-year-old waitress and divorced mother of two, probably said it best: "This is no ordinary housewife you're dealing with."

These are not ordinary women we're dealing with, either.

Sturdivant, a gregarious 6-foot, 168-pound redhead, has surrounded herself with football players since she was a little girl growing up in Raleigh, N.C.

Her parents weren't involved in sports, she said. "They just entertained football players all their life. I'd bring 'em home and they'd chow down in the kitchen. I never wanted to be a cheerleader. I wanted to be the water girl."

Last fall, she said, she attended every Cleveland Browns road game.

"Elvis Franks (a Browns' defensive end) gave me the jersey right off his back after the Houston game," she said, removing her Browns warm-up jacket to reveal a Browns jersey, No. 94, with Franks' name on the back.

Sturdivant's husband, not surprisingly, is a former football player. Doug Thacker, who was hired as an assistant coach at Valley two months ago, was a linebacker at Virginia Tech and was cut by two National Football League teams.

Said Sturdivant, who earned a nursing degree from the University of Miami: "I picked him up after a football game at the University of Miami. He was really cute and I liked his plays."

Despite her marital status, Sturdivant isn't shy about her fondness for almost anybody in shoulder pads and a football helmet.

"They're decent people," she said. "They'll tell you just like it is. They spit on the ground and they tell you, 'You look terrible today. Go home and start again.' They're honest people.

"They're mean, they're arrogant, they're cocky--just like everybody says. But I love 'em. They're my babies. Tarzan was raised with apes, and that's me. I was raised with football players. I want to play their game."

Sturdivant's teammates seem just as eager, if less passionate.

Nora Kelly, 27, a housewife and mother of three, said she is concerned about getting injured, yet added: "But I love to play football."

In college, she said, she played on an intramural team against men until breaking her left leg midway through the season.

"I'm very leery," she said. "I've broken my wrist. I've seen thumbs dislocated playing football. It's scary to me. . . .

"But if you're going to get hurt, you're going to get hurt. I play softball and I get hurt all the time. It's part of the interaction. . . .

"We're women. We're not men. And we don't have the threshold of pain that they have. But we want to play."

Injuries seem to be on the minds of all the women, although not all of them have the same attitude about pain.

Even those who don't know much about the game know about the risks involved.

"I told them I wanted to play quarterback," said Cindy Perusse, 21, a model and UCLA student from Studio City. "Isn't that one of the safer positions?"

Liza Himes, 19, a former ballet student from Northridge, said: "We're going to get hurt, but that doesn't bother me--unless I get a broken nose or a broken arm."

Injuries don't seem to frighten Lisa Reson, a 5-2, 110-pound cocktail waitress and former professional roller skater who said she has broken "a lot of bones--one more's not going to kill me."

She may be safe, though. She plans to be a kicker.

Karin Carmichael, 28, an accountant from Monrovia and former high school athlete, also seems unconcerned about injuries.

"I've gotten hurt in other sports," she said. "I also was in a car accident and I was hit by a car, so hurt is relative."

Not to Becky Smith. Smith, who played for the Los Angeles Dandelions of the old Women's Professional Football League, believes women should not play against men. But since her current teammates plan to, she said, "We're definitely going to need women with more meat on them."

Obviously, she was talking about anybody other than Emily Dole, a former Cal State Long Beach shot-putter whose only previous football experience was a scene in the movie, "Personal Best." Dole's brother, David, was a nose guard at San Jose State, and Emily said she always wondered what she could do in football.

That seems to be the general feeling among the women.

Said Ray: "What really struck us is, we can watch football, but we have no prior experience at playing the game. Girls have not played football. It has not even been discussed. . . .

"You can only go so far being a spectator. Then you have to take over from the viewpoint of the players. You have to be able to figure, 'Why are they doing this? Why are they moving that way?'

"If you've never been a part of that experience, you have nothing to go on."

Sturdivant knows this isn't going to be easy.

First, there's the matter of keeping the women interested and then there's the matter of getting anybody to play them.

On the prospect of playing against high school boys, Sturdivant said: "We've got the inspiration to get out there and prove a point. They've already proven they can play."

Any money the team might receive from gate receipts, Sturdivant said, will go to charity.

A body builder will donate his time to supervise the team's conditioning program, she said, and four former college and industrial league players, including her husband, have agreed to coach the team.

"The players have got to be willing to give themselves," Sturdivant said, "because if we don't work out, we're going to get killed."

That possibility has crossed her husband's mind.

"To be honest," Thacker said, "I have some uneasiness in my heart about her getting hurt because I do love her and she is my wife. But it's something she wants to do, and I believe in equal rights, so if she wants to try this, it's perfectly all right with me."

Still, he added, "I'm fearful of her getting hurt. . . . How many of these women have really taken a lick and know what it's really all about--having that ol' helmet put in the ol' sternum?"

Thacker is not the only concerned relative.

Boyce said her 18-year-old daughter is so embarrassed that her mother wants to play football that she asked Boyce not to use her real name. Boyce agreed, giving a reporter only her maiden name.

Said Boyce: "She's not saying to me, 'Don't do it. I'm gonna die.' But she's like, 'I don't believe this whole thing.' "

Boyce said she's "not really into women's lib, but I've always felt that anything women set out to do, they can do. . . .

"If everybody works out and is really serious about it, I think we stand a chance of not getting really hurt."

At least it's a start.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
55°