Women’s football becomes ratified club at Queen’s, breaking new barrier

Club will get appointed coaches, increased access to University facilities

The women’s football teams were previously not allowed use Queen’s name and relied on volunteer coaches from the men’s football team.
Credit: 
Jeff Chan

Members of the Queen’s women’s football team announced their ratification as a Recreation Club on Sept. 9.

Although they’ve just become recognized by Athletics and Recreation (A&R), female athletes from across Queen’s campus have been hitting the turf for years to practice and produce elite levels of flag football, which permits some levels of physical contact.

While other schools were able to sport their school name and logo, prior to ratification the women at Queen’s were comprised of two unaffiliated teams, the Golden Gals and Victorious Secret, which were each made up of about 40 athletes. The teams competed at sanctioned events led by the Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Football Association (OWIFA), where they’ll continue to compete in the future.

While lacking official recognition from the University, the teams found their ultimate barriers were getting guaranteed facility time and space, having to support themselves for travel accommodations and participation in tournaments, and not being able to extensively promote their program to the Queen’s community.

Even so, the participation and passion for the sport only kept growing, nearly doubling in size over the past few years.

From the moment she suited up for the first time, newly-appointed team President Emily Sharp’s goal was to see women’s football become officially recognized by the University. It was a goal, however, that required working through a number of obstacles. 

In the early 2010s, the women’s football team—then recognized as Powderpuff football—had its club status revoked, though the details weren’t disclosed.

In a Journal article published in January 2014, A&R’s current Director of Business Development and Operations Jeff Downie said Athletics and Recreation de-sanctioned the club “due to disciplinary issues.”

In an email to The Journal, Sharp said she held a meeting with Gareth Cunningham, associate director of Recreation and Active Living, and Michael Hermer, coordinator of Sports Clubs, “to discuss some of the historical issues that led to de-ratification status so that those could be well-addressed by our leadership.”

Sharp detailed the progressive changes that came with club ratification, including the establishment of an executive team, a refined club constitution, a hired coach, and assistant coaches who now report to the executive team.

Prior to their ratification, the teams had coaching staff comprised of players from the men’s football team.

In an interview with The Journal, Ben Arhen, fifth-year football receiver and women’s football coach, said he “could not be more excited” about the club’s ratification. 

“Anyone who has coached [women’s football] knows how much trouble and adversity we’ve been through […] I’ve been coaching for three years, and it’s always been tough,” he said.

The significance of this moment in Queen’s history isn’t lost on Arhen, and he recognized Sharp as the backbone of the operation.

 “She worked very hard to get us where we are right now. It’s been a very long time coming.”

The team recently submitted its COVID-19 return to play plan to A&R. It‘s currently under review and will determine the extent to which the club will play for the 2020-21 season.

Although the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have halted the club’s return to play, Sharp’s goals for the future of the club remain clear.

“We want to be seen as a strong, student-driven club that can provide amazing opportunities to learn, participate, compete, and have fun in a safe and supportive way,” she said.

“In 1991 we saw this same systemic shift in rugby with the emergence of a women’s rugby team here at Queen’s […] we are hopeful that one day gender will not be considered when you think of a specific sport.”

Sharp noted the advantages don’t stop at the larger systemic scale.

“What I like about women’s football is there is a position for every type of athlete,” she said. “Body confidence has always been a struggle for me […] I want every woman to love the bodies they are in and feel that sports have no limitations based on gender or anything else.”

“[Women’s football] was the first time that I felt like I was needed on a team, and that is the reason [why] I have the confidence I do today.”

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