The original women’s tackle football league in Regina – the one with clothes
Before the emergence of the scandalous and controversial Lingerie Football League (LFL), the Regina Riot were first on the scene of women’s tackle football in the Queen City.
While Regina has had women’s touch and flag football leagues for many years, the idea of a women’s tackle football team – dressed in full equipment – took some work to find a home in Regina.
For Melissa Park, general manager and player for the Regina Riot, the idea of a women’s tackle football team immediately sparked her interest.
“We had heard about some camps that were happening in and around Saskatoon and a gentleman by the name of Steve Mazurak with the [Saskatchewan Roughriders] organization was contacted by a girl in Winnipeg so it is kind of crazy how it came together,” Park admitted. “We had a meeting in January of 2011 where he said he really wanted to bring this team to Regina – obviously not spearhead it. We had six women that took it on that day in January, because we all really believed that this was something that we really wanted and we wanted to make it happen.”
Park has been playing touch football for years, but admits she was always curious about trying tackle football.
“I had been hoping to go to the camp that was going to be put on in Saskatoon,” Park said. “The year before that was the world nationals and we had heard about it, but it was too late for anyone to try out. We were really disappointed that we missed this opportunity to just try tackle, let alone try out for the very first women’s world team.”
Although Park’s aspirations to be a part of a tackle football squad were put on hold for another year after she learned she was pregnant, she quickly jumped into the role of the clubs general manager in order to help the Riot get off the ground.
“The timing for me was unfortunate, so I took on the operations of the team,” she said. “Just making sure that we could get up and running.”
While she may not have been on the field for the first season of Regina Riot football, Park was very pleased with how the inaugural season went.
“With any first year there is so much that you learn,” Park admitted. “It’s not like you are just a team, it is an organization, it is a large group of people. The team itself, we took footage of our first practices and oh my God, it is embarrassing.
“Even a week later, you could see the difference. The saying on our team is, ‘We don’t get better every day, we don’t get better every week, we get better every down.’ Obviously, it would have been better if we would have won, but the way we evolved throughout the course of the season, I was extremely happy with it.”
Just as the Riot were recovering from their loss to the Saskatoon Valkyries in the Prairie Conference final and making preparations for a sophomore season, another contender emerged in the women’s tackle football circuit in Regina
But Park is skeptical about how the LFL will fare.
“It’s something that is very different, it is a business and we are a sports organization,” Park said. “I wish them the best of luck, but I honestly can’t see it flying. As an entertainment venue, maybe it is all right, but as a sport, I don’t support it.
“When you discriminate against players because you want someone who is marketable, you don’t always get the very best. You are discriminating against a body type and you aren’t always going to get the best players. The type of tackle football we play, we promote women’s health. We promote and celebrate every body type and there is a place for you to play because it is essential to the game.”
While the Regina Riot are strong believers in promoting a positive atmosphere and lifestyle, Park argues the message that the LFL is sending is questionable at best.
“It’s not a positive message,” she said. “I can understand when they say, ‘It’s the confident women.’ That’s one way you can look at it. When I was telling my 12-year-old daughter about it and I was showing her some stuff online, she’s like, ‘That’s awful, I would never do that.’ We give young girls a place to aspire to be; that’s what we want to do, we want to be aspiring role models and I don’t think the lingerie league can really do that, I don’t think it sets a positive example.”
Apart from the message that the LFL is sending, Park is also quite skeptical of the safety of the players.
“I don’t think it’s safe when you look at the type of equipment they wear,” Park said. “I have taken some hits and I have given some hits and I would have a real concern for my safety out there. It’s proven, when you look and you hear a lot of players talk about how many injuries they have had and how dangerous it is.A lot of girls don’t last more that one season because of things like that.”
With the LFL here to stay – at least, for now – the Regina Riot have become known around town as “the league with the clothes.” While more attention has been shown on women’s tackle football, it has not always been bright.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Park admitted. “So many more people have heard about us because of the lingerie league, but it is unfortunate that that is the way they had to find out about us. The thing that sucks is that people will confuse us. We are really trying hard to make our identity our own so that people won’t get confused.”
While members of the LFL apparently have to have a six-pack in order to make the squad, Park once again stressed the importance that the Regina Riot puts on including everyone, with every body type.
“It is absolutely open to anyone,” she said. “People who you would think would be interested aren’t. We need every single type of body type that’s out there. We have got every body type that we need, we have every single walk of life. We have girls that are students, carpenters, electricians; it is open to every single type of women out there, experience or no experience.”
For people who are interested in getting involved – from playing, or sponsoring, to volunteering – with the Regina Riot, Park believes the best way is to try it out firsthand.