Mother and daughter enjoying life on the gridiron

Matthew Gourlie
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Local women making impact on Riot women's football team

Samara Stearns didn't have to work that hard to convince her mother Donna to let her play high school football last year.

Aimee Kowalski, quarterback for the Regina Riot, right, throws a pass Sunday at YaraCentre.

However, getting her mom on the field to join her? That took a little more convincing.

"I saw some other people out here and thought 'my mom is in pretty good shape.' I told her that she should come out and eventually she came out," said Samara Stearns, 17, who was a member of the SHSAA 3A provincial champion Peacock Tornadoes last season. She and her mom Donna were amongst a group of more than 40 women who hit the YaraCentre turf at the Regina Riot women's football camp Sunday.

"She was going to the practices and she kept telling me I should try out. Eventually she wore me down I guess," said Donna Stearns, who is 48. "I went for a few practices and the girls are very supportive and helpful. They make you feel welcome and that helped a lot."

Samara had been a manager with Peacock for two seasons when Justine Rempel joined the team while Stearns was in Grade 11. Stearns went to a Riot camp and then the Tornadoes spring camp and decided to play her senior season of high school football.

"I was always on the sidelines and there was another girl on the Peacock team that played last year and I thought 'I can probably do that.' I went out and played and really like it," said Samara Stearns who also practiced with the Riot last season.

"She decided that she wanted to try it. We put her in a few football camps to help get her ready. We were OK with it," said Donna Stearns.

Though it took a little cajoling, once she decided to take part, Donna committed herself and is enjoying a unique mother-daughter experience.

"In the fall we started working out and going to Double Shift (Conditioning) several times a week and that's helped a lot. By the time that we started football I felt I was in better shape than I have been for many, many, many years," said Donna Stearns.

Samara said she enjoyed representing her school and playing with Peacock, but that it's different playing with the Riot.

"Playing with the guys they don't always understand you as much," she said. "On this team all of the women understand what you're going through and you feel more connected with them as a team because of the gender aspect."

As the Tornadoes rolled through their season unbeaten Stearns got a lot of playing time on the Tornadoes defensive line.

"It was such a good season for me to play, we were so successful," said Stearns who notes that she has one advantage over a lot of her former teammates. "I feel kind of bad for the guys, because a lot of them don't have anywhere to keep playing."

The Riot are entering their fourth season in the Western Women's Canadian Football League. Head coach Darren Fisher said the team has approximately 15 new players this season.

"People are the biggest drivers of success. We have great people in the dressing room and we have great people that run the organization. You get people coming in because of that," said Fisher.

"We've been seeing a lot of young players in the last little while which is really good. Samara is a perfect example. At our last camp we had 13 players under the age of 15. A lot of the younger girls, once they see their friends play, they decide 'this is great' and they want to come out."

The team took advantage of the width of field at YaraCentre to run some proper passing drills and also had their first contact practice after spending three months practicing in gymnasiums. Beyond the facility, they were in Moose Jaw was to try to spread the word about women's football.

"You're always looking for more. That's one of the reasons we're coming out to these communities — Moose Jaw, Weyburn and Estevan," said Fisher of their three-city spring tour. "We want to build it everywhere. Football is a great sport. We all love it. This is a chance to get other women or girls involved with the sport. Especially the girls that are playing high school football in other places, this gives them somewhere else to play — even if it's not with us. If they move to Saskatoon and go to U of S, the Saskatoon Valkyrie are there. If they go to Calgary, the Calgary Rage is there. There are teams out there to build their sport."

There is a strong Moose Jaw contingent amongst their new faces. In addition to the Stearns, quarterback Aimee Kowalski returns for her fourth season and Trisha Jattansingh is back for her third season. They're joined by newcomers Morgan Waldo, Alex Kowalski, Morgan Wilson and Amanda Powell.

"I got brought in by the Kowalskis," said Waldo who was a national level downhill skier and recently moved home from Calgary. "I love it. It's so much fun. It's probably one of my favourite things that I've ever done."

Waldo, who competed at the Canada Winter Games in skiing is playing as an outside linebacker with the Riot. She has enjoyed being part of a team sport since she began practicing with the Riot in January.

"The camaraderie is incredible. Especially because we are older women, so the maturity is there. Our goal is to work as a team and at the end of the day it's so much fun to be a part of a team," said Waldo, who is 23.

"I participated in an individual sport that was all individual focus, individual training and now I'm focused working as a team, with team formations and team training. I have to make sure I have my body fit so that when I come to practice I'm not letting my teammates down. It's not just about me any more."

Aimee Kowalski, 26, played for Canada at the IFAF Women's World Cup where they finished second to the United States. She said she learned so much from the experience of playing at worlds despite suffering an ACL injury at the tournament in Finalnd.

She has noticed the changes in the team over their first few seasons.

"We put up the video of our first hitting practice that we had at Mosaic. It's just hilarious to watch," said Kowalski. "We're starting to get younger girls out which is good because they're more agile and they pick things up a little quicker."

She was one of seven members of the Riot who played for Canada at the World Cup. She that was a positive experience for all of the players who went and even those who didn't.

"More girls from this team were able to go so more girls are now working towards that for the next one," said Kowalski. "The girls have changed — they're hitting the gym more and caring more about their health so that they can keep playing."

Organizations: Canadian Football League, IFAF Women

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Canada, Calgary Saskatoon United States

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