Edmonton women’s football team tackling obstacles on and off the field as play resumes

They play with the same passion – and aggression – but according to Edmonton’s women’s football team, the playing field is far from level when it comes to fundraising efforts.

The Edmonton Storm has returned for its first full season since the start of the pandemic.

Started in 2010, the tackle football team is for women 18 and older, and is one of seven teams in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL).

The Western Conference includes three Alberta teams, two teams from Manitoba and two from Saskatchewan.

In 2019, Edmonton started a girl’s football league at the Capital District Minor Football Association (CDMFA) level — a move that Storm head coach Shawn Walter said can only help grow women’s football.

“The outlook for female football in Alberta is actually quite good right now. There’s a lot of growth happening in the younger ages which is helping our teams develop, helping our programs develop.”

‘GIRLS CAN PLAY TOO’

Defensive assistant to the BC Lions, Tanya Walter started her football career by playing for the Edmonton Storm in 2013.

She went on to represent both Team Alberta and Team Canada, and helped the national team win a silver medal in the IFAF Women’s World Championship in 2017 before becoming the first full-time female coach in the CFL.

Tanya said the team’s growth has been stifled by the pandemic the past two years.

“We’ve missed a lot of that key recruitment that we were really hoping for from the formation of that girls league so we’re just kind of trying to build everything back up right now.”

According to a 2021 study done by Canadian Women & Sport, one-in-four girls who were playing sports before the pandemic are not committed to returning to sports.

That means more than 350,000 Canadian girls may not return to playing sports. The study said that amount is the equivalent of every girl aged six to 18 in Alberta opting to not play sports.

“There’s a place on the field for everybody, there’s all types of bodies, all types of skills and everyone has their own job to do and everyone works together in such interesting ways,” said returning player Shaylee Foord.

Foord only played for one season before the pandemic, and said playing football changed her life. She now officiates games and coaches in the girl’s league on top of playing for the Storm.

“I think it’s so important that everyone throws some support behind this, gets the word out that these opportunities are available and that girls can play too,” said Foord.

‘FOOTBALL IS EXPENSIVE’

On top of trying to build up the team again is the rising costs of running the organization. Certain equipment has an expiry date, meaning the team can’t afford to replace their jerseys this year because some of their helmets need to be replaced.

Adding to that stress, Tanya said the local transportation company the team used went out of business because of the pandemic.

“So not only did our costs because of fuel increase for our bus, but because we lost our local company, now we have to go with some of those bigger more expensive companies so it’s effectively tripling our costs.”

A big cost, because as part of the WWCFL, the Storm has games as far away as Winnipeg.

“There is a decent amount of travel required, and obviously that adds to the cost to play,” said Shawn. “Because we’re such a small program, most of the girls have to pay for buses and stuff like that so fees can be a little bit higher than other programs.”

The team has to get creative with their fundraising, because Tanya said the Storm aren’t eligible for a licence from AGLC to have 50/50 raffles like many youth leagues in Alberta.

“There’s a lot of systems that have been built and created to support boys and mens football,” said Tanya. “AGLC tells us all the time, ‘Well, you’re adult women, you have jobs you should be able to pay for everything.'”

“Football is very expensive, especially when you’re trying to get something off the ground. We need the financials to be able to market, we need the financials to be able to make it a great experience.”

To help bring down the cost to players, the team is hosting a comedy show fundraiser on April 30 at the Yellowhead Casino. Tickets are available on their website.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Carlyle Fiset

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