Edmonton Storm tackles the stigma surrounding women’s football

It’s a cloudy Tuesday night and the field west of Jasper Place High School is full of action.

The Edmonton Storm of the Western Canadian Women’s Soccer League (WWCFL) are riding a 24-21 win over the Calgary Rage on May 14, the Edmonton club’s first victory of the 2022 season.

Tonight, in training, the focus is on the tackles. Twenty-one athletes line the field as defensive coordinator Branden Modin announces drills. Without hesitation, the women take to the ground.

“You know, so many times people ask us if we play football in lingerie,” head coach Shawn Walter said. “It’s full contact.”

The Storm’s second game of the season is Saturday against Lethbridge Steel in Raymond, Alta.

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We train with Edmonton’s only women’s tackle football team.

Walter joined the Storm during the pandemic. The 2022 season will be his first as a coach. He has been commissioner of the WWCFL since 2017.

“I think women’s sport is something that keeps growing, especially football,” Walter said. “And honestly, there aren’t a lot of opportunities.”

The Edmonton Storm is the city’s only soccer team for women over the age of 18. The players train twice a week and travel across the Prairies for games. Most are dependent on them. Some players have full-time jobs. Some are at school.

“The majority of this team is funded by these players,” Walter said. “A big obstacle is simply the lack of funding.”

This year, the team organized a comedy night to help raise funds. Walter hopes the team will grow in the years to come, gaining more sponsorships and support to help keep it alive.

Defensive back Baylie Kennedy travels from Sylvan Lake twice a week to practice. The trip takes the 21-year-old two hours each way after a full day of work at an aged care home.

“There’s something about the game that I really love,” Kennedy said. “The beatings, and everyone is so passionate about it, people are screaming. It’s just a rush.”

Aria McGowan plays quarterback for the Edmonton Storm. She has been with the team since 2010 and has been playing football for over three decades. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

For Aria McGowan, the storm is a significant step on the way to a lifelong goal. The quarterback has been playing tackle and touch football for over 30 years. She joined the team in 2010.

“It’s the only game where you literally have to trust the person next to you on either side, in front and behind you. It’s literally like a human chess game,” McGowan said.

“It’s just the one who moves his pieces a little better at the end of the day who will win the game.”

McGowan tried out for Team Canada this spring and hopes to represent Alberta and Edmonton on the national stage. But the first full season back on the pitch is reason enough to celebrate.

“It’s like your birthday every day,” she said. “Just being able to go out and be with your teammates and legally punch somebody as hard as you can…to a point.”

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