Golden, but not Gaels

Laurier tournament a focal point for women’s squad

With a championship season in their rearview mirror, Queen’s former women’s football team is starting anew.

As a recreational club under Queen’s Athletics and Recreation, the squad won last year’s Wilfrid Laurier University Lettermen tournament — the pinnacle of Ontario Powderpuff football.

They’ve since undergone a name change emblematic of the team’s transition. Once known as Queen’s Powderpuff, they’re now the Golden Gals, a Kingston-based club with no affiliation to the University or Athletics and Recreation.

The club was desanctioned last year, according to Jeff Downie, associate director of Athletics.

“Queen’s University does not currently participate in Powderpuff Football. Athletics and Recreation desanctioned the club last year due to disciplinary issues,” he told the Journal via email.

The Golden Gals said the split wasn’t about the club’s relationship with Athletics and Recreation.

“It wasn’t about going independent,” said Kasha Lee, PheKin ‘14. “It was about making sure there was a team, and there was the opportunity for other people to experience the sport.”

Lee is the new club’s de facto leader, both on and off the field. The fourth-year quarterback played competitive touch football throughout high school and continued with the sport at Queen’s.

Her club competes against teams from other Ontario schools, with most of those squads operating independently from their respective universities.

Along with the elimination of “Queen’s” from their moniker, the Golden Gals removed any reference to their sport’s traditional nickname.

“I’ve never actually liked the name ‘Powderpuff’,” Lee said. She characterized the women’s game as “semi-tackle,” with blocking permitted at the line of scrimmage and flag football rules applying in the open field.

”People read the word ‘Powderpuff,’ see it and they chuckle,” Lee added. “[Now,] people will maybe take us more seriously, hopefully.”

The new women’s football club is split into two distinct teams — Blue and Gold — with roughly 25 players suiting up for each side.

They’re coached by a collection of Queen’s football players, including defensive back Justin Baronaitis and receiver Aaron Gazendam, but the coaching staff is far from the only unit to feature marquee Gaels.

According to Lee, approximately two-thirds of this year’s squad is made up of current or former varsity athletes, moonlighting as football players for the winter season.

“They’re looking for a sport to play — the same thing we were looking for when we left high school,” Lee said. “It’s safe to say they found a new sport to love.”

The influx of talent has paid off. In last season’s Lettermen tournament final, women’s soccer defender Mikyla Kay booted a last-second field goal against York, clinching the Blue team a championship.

“We had the chance to either just go for it or kick it,” Lee said. “Our field goals weren’t on point all day. When she hit it, it was perfect.”

The Laurier tournament is a staple of the women’s football season, and a chance for this year’s Golden Gals to retain their title. The Blue team won all six of their games last March, conceding just six points all weekend.

Off the field, it serves a greater purpose. The 2014 Lettermen tournament is set for Feb. 7-8, and the goal is to top last year’s mark of $7,000 fundraised for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

“A lot of people on the team, coaches included, have family members that are affected with breast cancer,” Lee said. “The proceeds from the Laurier tournament are donated to the breast cancer foundation. That’s a big reason we want to attend it.”

For now, they’re practicing every weekend, charting plays and learning defensive formations. This season will mark the end of Lee’s university career, but she’s hoping it could spur a new beginning.

“There was no way I would go my last year without playing a sport that I love so much,” Lee said. “I would hate to see this die down or shut down, because I know the popularity is there — I know the skill is there.

“It’s one of the highlights of my university experience by far. I’ve met the greatest people and played the greatest game.”

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