EL PASO, TX - She sprints down the field in a pattern, arms outstretched to pull in the football that comes spiraling toward her, warding off the defender at her heels. Touchdown!

It takes a special woman to play semi-pro football, and Johnna Freeze, a 2008 Pandora-Gilboa graduate, is one of them. Freeze has one season of women's football under her belt, and hopes to continue in the sport she has come to know well and love.

Freeze has always been an athlete. She played soccer and basketball during high school, and was a star on the basketball team at Ohio Christian University (Circleville). OVERSET FOLLOWS:After her freshman year in college, the Putnam County native moved to El Paso, Texas. Around that time, a couple girls Freeze knew wanted to play football. A young lady who had played high school football organized a group of potential players. Once there were enough women to field a team, in 2012, they formed the El Paso Black Widows and joined the Independent Women's Football League (IWFL).

There are numerous women's football teams in the United States.

"This one was more about playing football," Freeze described.

It was full-contact; players wore pads, helmets, and complete uniforms. Because Freeze is a petite young lady, her uniform was youth-sized.

The rules for 11-player women's football are similar to men's. The field dimensions are the same. If the IWFL does not have a specific rule in place, NCAA rules are used. Sixes rules (six players on the field at a time) involve a smaller field, and require 15 yards for a first down. In sixes, all players are eligible receivers. At times, the Black Widows played with 11 on the field; at other times, because of their smaller roster, they played sixes. The team traveled within Texas and to other states, such as California, New Mexico, and Arizona, to compete. The women do use a smaller ball than the men.

The Black Widows were coached by two men, and had direction from the El Paso men's semi-pro team.

"They (the semi-pro team) helped us out a lot," Freeze said. "They would us scrimmage sometimes, but they took it easy on us. They have linebackers who played through high school and college. They were big guys."

The Black Widows practiced for two hours, twice weekly, at area parks. Practice involved a lot of conditioning. Freeze was a wide receiver and running back. She also played defensive safety and was the team's punter.

"I pushed myself to be better," Freeze explained. "I kinda had to be better than everyone else, because I was on the field most of the whole game. That excited me. It was all about playing."

"People would stop and watch us," Freeze recalled. "They were so amazed that girls were in pads. Others would question, 'It isn't full contact, is it?' They were just amazed."

Although the team had a sponsor, the El Paso Comedy Strip, the women were responsible for purchasing their own equipment and paying league fees. The Black Widows did not get paid to play.

"We played for enjoyment," Freeze commented.

They played their games on high school fields during the hot southwest summer. Their record was a less than stellar 2-6.

"We made it through the first season, so that was a plus," Freeze recounted.

However, the Black Widows disbanded. On December 21, Freeze plans to try out for the El Paso Envy, a new full-contact women's team that is being formed in the Sugar and Spice League. The Envy will play its first season in 2014. Freeze said that while the IWFL was about playing football, this league is more for the audience's entertainment, and advocating for women's rights to play the sport. The Sugar and Spice teams wear short spandex pants and shirts that show off the players' abs.

"It's more about working out and being fit. I hope I can deal with the spandex pants!" Freeze laughed.

And what was Freeze's mother's, Jessica Triplehorn, reaction to her daughter playing full-contact football?

"Mom was all excited - it was like I was in college basketball!" Freeze grinned.
story created on Monday 12/16/2013 at 12:14:44 pm by Anne Coburn-Griffis
story modified on Tuesday 12/17/2013 at 2:19:00 pm by Kirk Dougal