Powderpuff football tackles female engagement

All-female team making sport more accessible for women on campus

Powderpuff football is a three-team women’s football league, with 90 athletes.
Powderpuff football is a three-team women’s football league, with 90 athletes.
Credit: 
Supplied by Jeff Chan

There’s a new face for the future of football at Queen’s—and it’s female. 

Powderpuff is a women’s-only winter flag football league with approximately 90 women split between three different Kingston Powderpuff teams. Each team is separate from one another and holds different practice times. They compete in at least two tournaments at universities across Ontario and routinely against other Queen’s teams. 

Currently, Kingston Powderpuff isn’t associated with the University because of an infraction the team made after winning a tournament at Wilfred Laurier University in 2013. It was reinstated in 2014, but not under the Queen’s moniker—it acts separately from the university.

At other Canadian institutions, Powderpuff teams are run by upper-year women. But at Queen’s, the league is organized by members of the men’s football team when their varsity season ends. 

One of the Kingston Powderpuff coaches, fourth-year wide receiver Chris Osei-Kusi, said about half of the women in the league are varsity athletes—though the sport is open to everyone. “It’s just another avenue for girls to play a sport and do something active and live an active lifestyle,” Osei-Kusi told The Journal in an interview.

To promote inclusivity, no women are cut from the team. 

Osei-Kusi drawing up a play.

“Skill level isn’t a number one priority for us. If you’re committed, we’ll coach you,” he added.

Osei-Kusi said Powderpuff athletes have become more dedicated to the sport over time. Whereas in past years recruiting players fell on coaches, this year the athletes have been proactive in reaching out.

“We’ve definitely transitioned to having girls who want to be there every single week, want to play games, girls that want to get better.”

Fourth-year Courtney MacNiven, who’s played on Osei-Kusi’s Powderpuff team for two years, said much of the recruiting process for players comes from the women already on the team. Their team this season has seen plenty of players return for their second year in the sport.  

 “We realized how fun it was, and we wanted to get others,” she said.

MacNiven also mentioned a number of her teammates used to play similar sports in high school, but didn’t pursue them at the collegiate level. 

“Varsity is a really big commitment, and it’s hard to balance things often times,” she said. “If [women] don’t make the teams [at Queen’s], [Powderpuff] is a really good alternative that’s really competitive and fun.”

MacNiven noted turning the team into a Varsity Club would be beneficial to the structure of future teams.

Since being desanctioned in 2013, Queen’s Powderpuff team has rebounded quickly with ex-football player Luke McQuilkin starting the team up again in 2014. 

His younger brother, fourth-year Connor McQuilkin, is currently the head coach for one of Queen’s three Powderpuff teams. He said anyone can play—and many women find athletic skills they didn’t know they had in the process. 

“So many [women] watch [football] and understand the rules and how to play it,” McQuilkin said. “Some of these girls are so willing to learn, and they improve every practice because they listen to us and they actually trust our process.”

McQuilkin is excited to have a hand in the new direction of football at Queen’s. “I’m just trying to create a sport where it’s not male-dominated,” he said. “Because right now, most sports have a women’s and a [men’s team], but for football it’s mostly male,” he said.

“With all the studies with football and head injuries, the future in youth football—elementary, junior, high school—is going to be flag football,” he added. “But we need to establish a strong female presence in the flag football community to create more inclusion in high school.”

MacNiven said her experience with Powderpuff has been an indelible part of her Queen’s experience.

“Powderpuff has been a great way for my teammates and I to relieve stress and have fun in a competitive setting,” she said. “No matter how my week’s been, I always end up happy and excited to share the field with some amazing athletes and coaches.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.