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Gridiron Gals: WCU program teaches women football tactics

fr womenfootballFemale fans of Western Carolina University athletics know three things — which player the quarterback is, when a touchdown is scored and, more importantly, how to tailgate.


What they don’t know so much about is the actual game of football, which is why WCU Head Coach Mark Speir started Women Love Football, an event that aims to teach women a little bit about football. Speir, who is in his second year as head football coach, started a similar program when he was coach at Appalachian State University and brought the event with him to WCU.

“He is a family man, and he wants couples and families to come to football games. And sometimes women don’t know all the rules and what is being done on the field, and this is a way to educate them,” said Stefanie Conley, director of Corporate Sponsorships and Special Events for WCU.

Last Friday night, a revved-up crew of about 50 women decked out in WCU paraphernalia gathered in the Ramsey Center overlooking the football field for the university’s second annual Women Love Football. Although it was less about your football smarts and more about team spirit, the women got a hefty dose of football lessons.

Attendee Lynn Stanberry estimated that she knows about 50 percent of football’s rules, which was more than those around her

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“That’s good because I know about five percent,” joked Jen Pressley.

But Stanberry does have a little bit of a leg up. She co-owns O’Malley’s Pub and Grill, a Sylva sports bar with her football-fanatic husband. Stanberry went to WCU’s Ladies Love Football event last year, and returned this year for more.

“We are big Catamount supporters, and it’s just fun to have a ladies’ event,” Stanberry said.

After lavishing the ladies with wine and food, the women were split into two groups of 25 — purple and gold — before a crash-course on player strategy and later taking the field for a taste of work-out practice. 

Progress stalled as the women busied themselves with conversation, but the staff was eventually able to herd the spirited hens into their respective rooms to learn about either offense or defense.

Although the coaching staff isn’t afraid to threaten players with up-downs, they exude humor and personableness — an atmosphere clearly created and promoted by Coach Speir.

“He could talk to the wall and make it feel special,” said Paige Speir of her husband.

During the offense demonstration, Coach Speir raced in and asked one of the younger assistant coaches to show the women the correct posture for hiking a football, positioning his hindside to the all-female audience — much to their enjoyment. Speir said the demonstration was for “PR” purposes and there would be no extra charge before quickly exiting to a hoot of laughter.

“Can we see the PR snap again?” quickly joked one of the women.

Then came time for a pop quiz, do football teams want to run or pass the ball? The abstruse question hung over the crowd for a minute or two before someone mustered a guess. Pass? Yep. Why? To make sure the team keeps control of the ball, one woman ventured.

“I got it right,” she said quizzically, inciting supportive claps from her fellow football novices.

When several members of the current football team joined the offense demonstration to answer questions, only a few revolved around the game or practices.

“How many hours a day are you rehearsing? I mean, practicing,” asked Susan Belcher, an opera singer and wife of WCU Chancellor David Belcher.

Players said they will spend 14 hours a day during the summer attending meetings, practicing on the field, watching films of football games or working out.

But the women were more concerned about the personal lives of the players — where they hail from, what position they play, what their major is and why they don’t have enough time to call their mothers.

During the defense presentation, which Defensive Coordinator Shawn Quinn deemed “the right side of the ball,” the WCU football program revealed its theme for the year — relentless. If the team wants to win this year (last year, it had a losing record of 1-10), then players need to be relentless in pursuit of a “W,” Quinn said.

Quinn explained that defense is not as simple as doing a cheer and lining up on the field.

“It’s not just about ‘rah-rah, let’s go hit ‘em,’” he said, letting the women in on some of the hand signals and code words that the defense uses for specific plays.

The WCU football coaching staff have spent the last couple of years recruiting new talent and are optimistic going into this season.

“It’s a great time to be at Western,” Quinn said.

Coach Speir concluded the event with a pep talk, encouraging everyone to turn out for WCU’s home games and use some of the knowledge they gained from the event to impress their spouses.

“That makes the biggest difference in the world,” he said. “Make your husbands look silly and then cheer like crazy for the Catamounts.”

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