Tackling a new sport

An all-new tackle football team separates the women from the boys.

tackle football 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
tackle football 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Jerusalemites can expect a foxy addition in the upcoming football season, but it won’t be of the cheerleading kind. Ayelet Wartelsky and Nadia Brenner have kicked off an all-girls tackle league in Jerusalem’s Kraft Stadium. Flag football traditionally played in Israel is not like the tackle football in which brawny men garbed in helmets and protective gear knock each other to the ground. Both former players of the flag football league for women, Wartelsky and Brenner decided it was time to get physical on the field. The new women’s team is a league of its own, similar to flag football but with direct contact.
Explaining what was lacking from flag football, Wartelsky says, “Flag just didn’t feel like real football to me. Tackle is really my dream, my passion.”
Brenner also expresses her love of tackle football as a team sport. “I like that it’s a team game; everyone has their own part to play. It’s a good balance between running and defense. You get to participate in everything, as opposed to being stuck in one position.”
Tackle has no room for prima donnas. Unlike most sports, in tackle football team members must collaborate as one entity.
But it hasn’t been all fun and games for Wartelsky and Brenner. Officially the team was started in the summer; but most of the girls had to drop out because of lack of time. Serious practices started again a few weeks ago.
Funding is the current question facing the team organizers. At present, the team is compromising on the equipment necessary for tackle. Members are using helmets and gear donated by an elementary school boys’ team.
Brenner says, “Not everything fits the way it should. It’s been a hard start, but once word gets out there and enough people know about us, we expect to grow and receive funding pretty quickly.”
Proper uniforms will include professional football tights, thigh pads, knee pads, shoulder pads, helmets, chin straps and mouth guards.
Football coach Avigdor Yonah is fresh off the boat, having made aliya from Texas with his wife in August. With 42 years’ experience in coaching, he immigrated to Jerusalem, concerned about what he would do as a career. Luckily, he didn’t have to stress for long.
His calling in Israel began with a loud clamor as he walked down Sderot Ben-Zvi. He peeked into the Kraft Stadium, and it turned out the Lions Israel Football League was letting off some steam. “I had no idea there was a league in Israel. I had 25 coaching books and donated them to the library in Manhattan. I was walking down the street, I heard someone kicking a football, came down, and the Lions were practicing right over here. I couldn’t believe it – football in Israel!”
Avigdor now trains the Lions and has been chosen to coach the new Women Israel Football League. “I have never coached women’s tackle,” says Avigdor. “This is a challenge for me. It’s hard to see them hit. But these girls aren’t bashful – they hit hard.”
Avigdor has some words of wisdom for the girls eager to try tackle: “Wear your mouth guards. It’s a lot easier to find a husband with teeth as opposed to without.”
But the girls don’t seem too fazed about the threat of cuts, cleats or jammed thumbs marring their beauty. “Pain is part of it; it’s a physical game. I played flag, and that was what was missing for me, the physicality. If you get hurt you get hurt – it’s all part of the game,” says Wartelsky.
Interestingly, according to her, the national flag team must control its temptation to tackle. Flag coaches feel that tackle is too physical and the risk of injury is too great for those players training for the European championships.
Both Wartelsky and Brenner are confident that their growing league will eventually define the first national women’s tackle team. They are determined to compete in the 2012 Olympics and European nationals. When asked about her drive behind a women’s tackle team, Brenner replies, “We are not trying to be boys, but we are just trying to get a little more physical in the flag football arena.”
They would like to establish a full league to start after Rosh Hashana. To date, the team has about a dozen women devoting their Sunday nights to the tackle turn-on.
What kind of players are they looking for to join the team? Says Brenner, “We welcome whoever is willing to come and play.”
“There definitely will be hours of training and practice involved, especially once we have a national team. And one would need to have a certain amount of athleticism and physicality to play the game,” Wartelsky elaborates.
Women interested in tackle football can e-mail Wartelsky at ayeletwartelsky@gmail.com.