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Phantomz play for love of game, growth of women's football

By - May 03, 2017

By Hailey Hole/For The Sporting Nation

The Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) has made massive progress for women’s contact football in America and is still currently working to further expand the league. 
 The league was founded in 2000 by players who were determined to start a women’s contact football. It started as a way to bring football to the masses by allowing women to participate in the full contact version of the sport, unlike powder puff, flag football or lingerie football. Over the years, the IWFL has set a standard for other leagues to follow in the development of women’s football for the future.
 In 2010, the IWFL teamed up with USA Football, which is a non-profit national governing body for amateur American football in the United States, and created the first ever United States Women’s National Team. Not only did the team compete in the inaugural International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women’s World Championship Tournament, they won it. 
 There are multiple leagues that give women the chance to play the game, such as the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), the United States Women’s Football League (USWFL), and the Lingerie Football League (LFL). Out of all the women’s football leagues, the IWFL is the only league in history that offers performance bonus prize awards to dedicated players that shine out on the field.
 When the IWFL kicked off in 2001, there were only four teams. Now, the league has six divisions including 27 teams. The women are following the same rules as those of the NCAA with a few exceptions as to what is believed to be the most appropriate for the women’s game. This league is a traveling league, has an All-star game and a championship game.
The Phoenix Phantomz are currently leading the Pacific Southwest Division with a 2-2 record. Their season is on now and their home field is Moon Valley High School. All players sign a contract in the beginning of the season promising their commitment.
The women do not get paid; however, any money that is raised goes toward the team’s traveling expenditures. The Phantomz, so far, have been out to Sacramento, Long Beach and Reno. They are also scheduled to head to Salt Lake City, where the championship game is held. The team receives the money to travel through sponsorships.
“All of my girls send out sponsorship letters and pound the pavement looking for sponsors. We are non-profit, so donations and sponsorships are tax deductible,” said Tabitha Mcbride, the general manager of the Phantomz.
The team’s current sponsors are Big G Plumbing and Po’ Boyz BBQ, who have helped the team spend in upwards of $3,500 on traveling costs.
The coaches and players are really determined to make this league more well known by working hard and growing their fan base by encouraging all people to come out and support. Head coach Donnie Meador and defensive coordinator Roland Tremell have a good degree of coaching experience. 
“My coaching background started about eight years ago coaching a little league football team and coaching in the adult men's league. At times my seasons have overlapped with each other and I have coached two games in one day at two different locations but you just have to go with the flow when it is something that you enjoy doing. Currently, I've been coaching at the high school level for about four years now,” said Meador. 
Meador has been a part of the IWFL for several years.
“In 2011 when the opportunity to coach was brought to my attention I didn't hesitate. Six years later, I'm still here,” said Meador. 
The Phoenix Phantomz is Tremell’s second IWFL team he has coached.
 “I initially started coaching in the IWFL with the Houston Energy in 2008. I was their defensive coordinator before I moved to Arizona in 2012. I joined the Phoenix Phantomz in 2015 as an assistant coach," Tremell said.  "Joining this organization was a great opportunity for me. There’s no place in the world I’d rather be than on a football field coaching this group of ladies. They have heart and they’re full of passion and desire. They understand what it takes to win. I must say this group is something special."
The Phoenix Phantomz players push themselves at practice through the Arizona heat.
            “We practice up to three times a week in the offseason and twice a week during the season,” said Meador.
Because this is an 18 years of age and up league and the athletes are unpaid, most players have jobs outside of the football team. However, Meador doesn’t let this get in the way of practicing the game. He actually has creative ways to provide the women the training they need if they cannot make a practice.
“The coaches will make time to get more practice by conducting film study sessions and also online sessions as well. With this being a league where the players have day jobs, you have to find other ways to get all the practice you can,” said Meador.
The players are committed to both work and football and have positive attitudes about the juggling act.
“How I balance football and work is that it all starts with a core, without it, nothing works. I have been lucky enough to have amazing people from this team as my core. They want nothing but the best for me. Also, its helps to have a job where they are understanding about my love for the game,” said Gerilynn Curley, an athlete.
The league gives women a chance to actually participate among other women and the league truly acts as a professional one. This league is growing each season but is still buried under the National Football League's funding and popularity.
“I really want people to know that this team exists! The coaches and players work really hard day in and day out. It would be nice to have a giant crowd at home and away games. Having more people knowing about us also helps us with funding as well. A bigger fan base leads to more athletes wanting to be a part of something special,” said Meador.
The athletes are positive that people will enjoy the league if they can make it out to a game to witness in person.
“If you are not familiar with women's football, come to a game and you'll see the love and the passion we have for the game itself. It shows in the way we hit and in the way we keep each other up. Two things can happen when you come to a game. One, you love women's football or two, you walk away with having more respect for the women who play the game,” said Curley.
Through the words or the Phoenix Phantoms coaches and players, they all support each other and the movement of the league.
“We have not just team chemistry but family chemistry on our team. There is no one player who makes the team. We all make the team. We lose together. We win together. Simple as that,” said Curley. 
Despite the adversity a women’s football league faces, coach Meador thinks equality should be recognized in this sport.
“My purpose getting involved is that I enjoy football and I enjoy coaching it. Football is football no matter who is playing it,” said Meador.             

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