Ladies Who Crunch

The hard-hitting Knighthawks are bringing a new edge to women¹s football

Keeping it comfortable for everyone: that might be the managerial mantra for the Knighthawks. This can entail holding an after-game gathering at a joint where kids are welcome, but then pumping up the volume at a party put together by Womyn of Distinction, a promoter that often does lesbian events.

"I set the tone," Roach-Canty says. "Business is business. If you do something stupid or unprofessional, then you're going to hear about it. Act appropriately. Be smart. I will always say that. To my straight people, I say, Be smart.' It's about respect."

It seems to work for the Knighthawks' chemistry. "On this team," says Lydia Vargas, "they don't care what your preference is."

Steven Dewall
Quarterback and place kicker Paige O'Hanlon comes from a football family; her twin is also a quarterback on a women's full-contact team.
Steven Dewall
Quarterback and place kicker Paige O'Hanlon comes from a football family; her twin is also a quarterback on a women's full-contact team.

Arlene Locklin and Sophia Russell are team captains. Spectators can spot running back Locklin on the field because of her copper Nikes, and her style of running.

It's signature stuff: a powerful dash wide, then a sharp, relentless cut upfield. Off the field, it's the platinum blond, trim 'fro that gives her away.

Number 3, Russell is nearly as easy to make out. She's the tall, trim safety who can play wide receiver too. Although Russell, a caseworker at J-Top, the Juvenile Transfer Offender Program, has lived in her townhouse apartment near the COFCO Chinese Cultural Center for four months, it still has that just-moved-in feel. The only clutter is the forlorn torso of a shoulder pad, a kind of impromptu sculpture, set in the middle of the floor near the glass fireplace.

When Locklin arrives at Russell's home, she comes up the stairs, cell phone pressed against her ear, recounting the Austin game, which they'd just won 20 to 6. Turns out she's talking to her older brother, Kenny. He coaches Palo Verde High's football team in Tucson, where they grew up.

"I hate when he comes to the game," she says. "He's so critical. He wants the game tape before anybody else. Then he'll say you need to do this, you need to do a little more of that."

She hates it but she doesn't. "It's good to have someone like that to talk to. There has to be something I'm doing wrong. There must be something I can do better. If I was perfect, I'd be making a touchdown every carry, and I'm not.

"I thought I was going to be a safety. Really. I didn't want to get hit. I did not want to get hit." She smiles with gap-toothed pleasure. "My idea is that I wanted to hit someone."

Football is, of course, all about hitting -- and a little bit about avoiding being hit. And these girls can hit. Their smackdowns are loud, chastising, bell-ringing shots.

There is no Knighthawk who will not expound with a kind of amazed pleasure on the subject, from the wee Mouse (Jennifer Haskin, who at 5'4" and 120 pounds is the slightest person on the team) to the bejeweled Chocolate Thunder (Erika Carver) to House (all 5-foot 9-inches, 270 pounds of her).

The first game in Dallas, linebacker Lisa Jones plowed into an opposing player. Three different teammates have recounted this collision as if auditioning for some play-by-play gig at ESPN. "There was a girl in Austin," says Russell. "Nadia got a good hit on her. She was rolling on the ball, trying to get up, eyes rolling back of her head. I stood above her, saying, Fight it! Fight it.'"

An opposing lineman called Mary Jo Naberhaus a bitch. "Bitch!'" Naberhaus recounted. "And I thought to myself, That's not very nice.' And then I go to her, Hey, we're all bitches when we play this game.' And she went, You got that right.'"

As for the privilege of hitting or being hit, "I know if I'm not there, I'm not getting any better," Russell says. "That's what we talk about when we talk to the ladies. We know you're not getting paid. You knew that coming out here you weren't going to get to quit your job. But there was something that kept you out here, something that you used to keep coming out here. That's the same something you need to continue the season. Whatever that was that you used to convince yourself that you can do this is the same thing you need to call on."

Russell ends her mini coach's speech. "I know we're not going to get paid. But the competition -- I'm all there. Checkers. Jump rope. . . . You say there's a winner and I'm going to be there."

A minute away from the Citrus College stadium -- "Home of the Fighting Owls" -- Monica Kutchinsky pops in AC/DC and cranks up "Back in Black." The Jetta rumbles into the parking lot, where teammates are lounging against or sitting in their cars or tossing around the Nike pigskin. The playlist goes on. Axl Rose. Michael Jackson sends his challenge out into the smooth afternoon air, "You wanna be starting something." In response, House walks over to the car, reaches in and cranks it up a notch.

"Listen up, ladies," coach Derek Rodriguez says in the airless locker room. "Let's do this tonight."

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