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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
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Powderpuff: Behind the faces of the NWFL

Abigail Claiborne

** This story is fictional and was written for an educational purpose. It has not and will not be made into a film. The history of women's football is fact. Catherine Masters, Cindy Jakubowicz, Jessica Dugger and Lauren Shute are real people who have either worked within the NWFL or have played women's football, but the stories about them and quotes are fictional, unless noted otherwise. All other names and anecdotes in this paper are fictional. For questions, please contact me directly - .

Powderpuff tells the story of how the National Women's Football League began and it's struggles in its first decade of uninterrupted, competitive play. The film will show the lives of four different women and how they overcame the struggles and stereotypes to play tackle football. The following women's lives have been documented thanks to the help of the athletes, parents, coaches and local news stations. Cindy Jakubowicz throughout her teenage life, many other athletes were intimidated by her and instead of competing with her aggressive nature on the field, they labeled her as a dyke and thought nothing of it. Jakubowicz overcame those struggles and went on to captain the Philadelphia Liberty Belles in their inaugural season, winning the league championship and continued to play competitively for five years. ( Jessica Dugger and Laurel Shute were twelve when the NWFL began and their story is about playing football through middle and high schools and starting a club team at their college before both being selected for the 2011 Nashville Dream team.( Lisette Kaczka, "Gershman students can punt, pass and kick," Knoxville News-Sentinel, 20 January 2002) And finally the film will focus on the master mind of this whole league, Catherine Masters and how her dream made little girls dreams come true. (Lisette Kaczka, "Gershman students can punt, pass and kick," Knoxville News-Sentinel, 20 January 2002) Born into a football family, Masters saw firsthand how football excited men and women, but wanted the same opportunity to be made for both men and women to be able to play football. She saw how Title IX improved women's sports on the collegiate level and after seeing the success of the WNBA and WMLS she began the NWFL. Through the first decade of the NWFL, the league transformed the stereotype of the players and the fan base and every January fans are eager for their home team to begin play. With 36 teams now active, most major metropolitan cities have a WNFL team and some teams support is so huge that they sell-out an NFL stadium. However, before diving into the biographies of these amazing women, old footage of the numerous attempts to start this successful league will be shown. Through much hard work, dedication and support, the NWFL this time succeed and even broke even in profits in the past couple of years.

In 1926, NFL teams such as the Frankford Yellow Jackets fielded women's teams for the sole purpose of halftime entertainment. Then forty years later, Sid Friedman, a Cleveland talent agent, started a women's semipro tackle league, the Women's Professional Football League, as a 'gimmick.' By 1971, this league grew to include Cleveland, Toledo, Toronto, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Lacie Wilson, of the WPFL said, "she enjoyed playing in the league, but wished fans viewed it in the same intensity as they viewed the NFL. I felt like a cheerleader with pads." In 1974, the National Women's Football League formed with teams in Dallas, Fort Worth, Columbus, OH, Toledo, Los Angeles, California (city unspecified) and Detroit. By 1976 the league expanded and formed three divisions to include Eastern (Columbus, Detroit, Philadelphia, Middletown, OH and Toledo), Southern (Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Tulsa) and Western (Los Angeles, California, San Diego and Pasadena). In August 1976, the Oklahoma City Dolls and the Toledo Troopers met in the first ever WPFL Championship Game and after the referees deliberated a game winning play, the game was ruled a tie and the teams shared the title. Erin Smith of the Dolls remarked after the game, "I would have rather lost than have to share the title. The refs probably thought they were being equal by not picking a winner, but in fact they made the game seem like a prissy girl game that doesn't have winners and losers. It's a disgrace to the league." After the 1976 season, the league began to break into separate franchises, mainly because the league had to limit interdivision play to cut travel costs. Through the early 80s, teams dropped like flies as the owners could not financially manage a team and by 1988, the Cleveland Brewers decided to take up flag-touch football and persuaded the Columbus team to join them. The WNFL ceased to exist until Catherine Masters ignited it again in 2000. ( The first preseason began on October 14, 2000 to December 2, 2000 with the Nashville Dream and the Alabama Renegades and had stimulating success from media and fans worldwide. Masters added another 8 teams between January and March 2001, which led to the first league championship between the Philadelphia Liberty Belles and the Massachusetts Mutiny with the Belles creaming the Mutiny 40-7. (

Cindy Jakubowicz was one of the initial players in the NWFL and participated in many of the round table discussions Masters held to get the league rolling. Jakubowicz, from Havertown, PA always liked and participated in sports, but at a cost. "Everyone called me a dyke. And being from a small town, word got around that everyone thought I was a dyke because I wasn't one of those petite girls who wore skirts and dresses. I played ball and I played hard. I also worked hard in school because I knew that my athletics were not going to take me as far as they could if I was a guy. There was no such thing as a football scholarship for girls so I didn't play football in high school. I played soccer, basketball and lacrosse. At 6'1", I was intimidating to many girls and I think that scared them and instead of trying to compete with me on the field, they would try to assert themselves that they were better than me by calling me gay." Jakubowicz graduated in the top 10 percent of her high school class and went on to play lacrosse at the University of Maryland on a full scholarship. "I loved playing lacrosse, but never had the same passion for it as I did playing football and I played flag football with other women in the area, but it just wasn't at the intensity I wanted. So when Catherine asked me about the NWFL, I was excited, but nervous that it wouldn't succeed or that it would get a bad reputation: like only dykes can play and only dykes will watch. Granted, I do think a lot of our fans are lesbians, but they are fans nonetheless. Do we stereotype that most people that watch golf are white men? Or that boxing fans have to be minorities? It is the same type of stereotype and in order for any sport to be popular, owners, fans and players need to overlook those stereotypes and see that there is an athlete out there working her hardest and enjoying herself. That is why I play and that's why everyone should play." Jakubowicz played her entire NWFL career for the Liberty Belles and has never regretted any part of it. "I loved playing and I think the crew we have coming in now is fantastic. The league gets more and more popular by the minute and I know that we will never have the fan base that the NFL has, but I don't expect it nor want it. Our fans are true and genuine and the players are as well. That is important in making a successful league and I think Catherine has done a great job putting the league together and making it what it is today." When asked how she will continue to support the league, Jakubowicz answered, "The head coaching position is open for the DC Divas and I think I might take it. I love the sport and I love the new talent we have. Our success has brought many more women on men's football teams. Plus with the success of many women club football teams, especially down in Tennessee, the NWFL will continue to grow in competitiveness and popularity."

Jessica Dugger and Laurel Shute, from Knoxville, Tennessee began their football careers in middle school around the same time the NWFL came alive. Participating in punting, passing and kicking competitions jump-started these girls enthusiasm for football. (Kaczka) But like Jakubowicz, both girls participated in soccer and basketball through middle and most of high school. The summer before their senior year in high school, Dugger and Shute decided that they were not going to play soccer, but instead try out for the high school football team. Dugger had perfected her kicking while Shute had a mean field goal range and both thought they were just as good as the boys. On their first day of tryouts, many of the guys told them to turn around and head to the soccer field because there was no way they would be able to make it there. Dugger was especially ridiculed because she is African American. One football player told her, "Girls, especially black girls, can't play football, they play basketball and run track so why don't you take your ass back to track where it belongs." None of this badgering discouraged the girls, but in fact inspired them to try harder. Shute remarked, "if the boys ignored us, we might have felt differently, but now we felt we had to prove something." Football coach, Brian Zuckert, gave the girls a fair chance and told them that he was going to treat them just like one of the guys and no special preferences were going to be made. "I had to give them a fair chance or else I would have lost my job and had a lot of angry parents and administrators to answer to. Plus, I was curious to see how they would compete with the boys."

Both girls made the team and played on and off the whole season. Towards the middle of season, the male players' respect began to rise as they saw Dugger and Shute working just as hard and if not harder than they were. They understood the plays and executed them just as well as any guy. After the season was over and with no football scholarships in hand, they duo headed to the University of Tennessee. Instead of trying to play football for them, the girls began their own women only tackle-football club and received an enormous response. They encouraged other local schools to start clubs so that they could compete and now, four surrounding schools have successful clubs and compete against each other. Owners of the Nashville Dream, Christie and Ronnie Thomas hearing of Dugger and Shute's success and were anxious to get the girls on their team as the Dream was struggling in the past couple of years. Dugger and Shute were both offered a spot on the Dream, pending completing of their degree. Shute exclaimed, "It's an honor to know that after all our hard work that we will be able to play in the NWFL. I had always thought of it as a far off dream and now that it's close to a reality, I'm ecstatic." Dugger had similar remarks. "I wanna show those boys who thought I could only run and jump that I'm going to be a starter in the NWFL and ask them what they think of that." For the 2011 season, Dugger and Shute will start for the Dream.

Catherine Masters was the only girl in her family of five brothers and had early exposure to sports, especially football. Lucky for her, the local flag-football team always needed an extra person to play so being thought as one of the guys, she was always asked to play. "Some of the girls made fun of me for always playing with my brothers and other boys in the neighborhood, but I think they were jealous of the attention I got. I liked playing ball and never thought anything of it except that I was playing a sport. Girls weren't very athletic in my school, so it was really one of my only chances to play sports. You could play tennis and I did that, but I wanted something more adventurous." After college, Masters worked in both the music and sports industries. She was a scout on the Virginia Slims tennis circuit, owner of a chain of tennis specialty shops and a marketing consultant for the New York and Atlanta Super Shows, the largest sporting goods shows in the world. ( ) In the mid-nineties, after seeing the increased popularity of girls playing high school football and the occasional woman on a college team, she looked into the idea of reviving the professional football league for women. Masters conducted many round table discussions with prospective owners, players and fans trying to gain a perception of the possibility of the league and how the league would be viewed. With most discussions positive, Masters set forward on her plan to create the National Women's Football League. "Many prospective owners were heads of corporations who were eager to get their foot in the door of professional sports and saw the success of the WNBA and hoped that the NWFL would head in the same directions. Likewise, the fans, are eager to see more women in professional sports because it provides a positive role model for girls by showing them that men do not always have to be the ones in the limelight." Masters comments, "The league has been extremely successful and the women who play are fabulous. In such a short time, we have built the fan base up and the American population is really starting to take pride in their home teams. While before the NWFL was an after thought, many fans are purchasing season tickets and following their teams just as they do with their NFL home teams. Our main goals for the league have been to keep the fans interested and to have competitive balance within the league. It's no fun if one team goes out and wins all the time, so we have made sure that if one team looks like their pulling away from the rest of the league that players are traded to evenly balance the competition. Fans have definitely appreciated this and I think our fan base has increased because of it. I think it has added a tremendous amount to women's sport and I applaud everyone who has helped to make this some girl's dream."
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