(written, shot and edited for Somerville Patch)
The Boston Militia defeated the D.C. Divas, 37-24, on June 25 in the first round of the Women’s Football Alliance playoffs. Starting quarterback, tri-captain and WFA All-American Allison Cahill completed 10 of 15 passes for 156 yards, including a second-quarter 73-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver and All-American (and backup QB) Adrienne Smith.
Starting fullback Dorothy Donaldson – another All-American (the Militia have six on the first team and two on the second) – pitched in with a rushing touchdown, as did running back Whitney Zelee. On the defensive end, outside linebacker Jennifer Olivieri forced a first-quarter fumble in the Militia’s red zone to kill a scoring opportunity, and All-American cornerback Briannah Gallo blocked a second-quarter punt that set up a field goal and gave the Militia a 20-6 halftime lead.
The Militia will next take on the Chicago Force on Saturday. So who are these women? And why football?
For some of the Militia, playing in the WFA simply continues their lifelong passion for football. Olivieri, 38, was the first girl ever to play in hometown Hull Youth Football. Smith has loved football since early childhood.
“No one ever discouraged me,” Smith said. “So, I’m literally 3 years old, watching the NFL with my parents, and I had a teddy bear at the time. We were about the same size; he was a big teddy bear. His name was Ginger, and I used to practice tackling him in front of the TV while I’m watching. My dad got me a Nerf football when I was 7 and taught me how to throw and I was hooked ever since.”
Opportunities for girls to play competitive football can be scarce, especially after age 13, which is when Militia general manager Frank Ferrelli says boys begin to play more recklessly, augmenting the risk of injury inherent to the physical differences between boys and girls that age.
This means that many female football players are relatively new, coming from other sports. Donaldson and Smith both played softball in college. Cahill, Smith and Olivieri played basketball. Center Amanda Alpert competed in throwing events such as discuss and shot put. Second-team All-American inside linebacker Jessica Penta was a soccer goalie.
While playing these other sports may develop some skills that would translate to football, the transition can be difficult.
“Football is hard,” Donaldson says. “It’s just very awkward at first, being athletic but also wearing a lot of equipment. It takes some getting used to to kind of grow out of that awkward phase.”
Despite the at-times difficult transition, the WFA offers a competitive athletic opportunity that the players really respond to. Olivieri says she converts her natural aggressiveness into how she plays linebacker, which may explain why she’s second on the team in tackles and first in tackles for losses. For Penta, however, her aggression is a game-mentality that she flicks on and off. She leads the team in tackles and is second in TFLs.
Cahill says that although quarterback was not originally one of her top choices, she now enjoys the strategizing and preparation the position requires. When she watches the NFL, she admires and tries to replicate the athletes’ mental toughness and ability to overcome adversity.
Adds Cahill, “Of course, you can’t beat direct involvement on every single play.”
That direct involvement has led to a 130.1 passer rating, second best in the WFA. On the field, Cahill plays with command, but also perhaps with the weight of the team on her shoulders. When she occasionally fumbles or overthrows a pass at practice, she curses loudly on the field, as if any mistake is unacceptable.
The Militia formed four years ago when local automobile dealer Ernie Boch Jr. bought and merged the Bay State Warriors of the IWFL and the Mass Mutiny of the National Women’s Football Association. Players agree that since the merge the team has had to focus less on fundraising and logistics, and instead focus solely on football.
The team went undefeated in the Independent Women’s Football League in 8010, winning the championship before moving to the larger and more competitive WFA.
Their winning streak ended with their very first WFA game, a 35-20 road loss to the Divas on April 2. The team then won its next eight, including the playoff win.
Cahill says that loss strengthened the team’s focus and mental preparation for the rest of the season, an idea shared by many Militia players.
“It was a wake up call,” Cahill said. “I think ultimately they did us a favor.”
“When you join a championship team, even veterans, you may think that everything’s guaranteed,” Donaldson says. “I think the biggest lesson is nothing’s guaranteed. You have to go and prepare. You can’t walk in expecting to win; you have to perform. … There’s no team out there that’s just going to hand it over to you. They want what you want, and want what you already have.”
Ferrelli says the Militiat average about 800 for their home games, played at Dilboy Stadium.
“This stadium is awesome,” Olivieri says. “It’s really nice, and clean, and probably the best stadium in our league.”
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