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Guelph Women's Football Team aims to increase women's participation in competitive sports

 'I'm excited to see where things will be in two years, or even a year, after COVID is done'

A contact flag football league is helping women to foster a sense of community and remain active in Guelph, and in communities across Ontario.

The Guelph Women's Football Team is a contact flag football team that is part of the Ontario Women's Intercollegiate Football Association (OWIFA), a competitive flag-football league for women within universities and colleges across Ontario. With a short season from February to March, teams a part of the OWIFA participate in four, two-day weekend tournaments.

"I know OWIFA has hundreds of women ready to play football," said Claire Julian, president of the Guelph Women's Football Team and executive administrator for the Ontario Women's Intercollegiate Football Association. 

“I’m excited to see where things will be in two years, or even a year, after COVID is done," she said. "I think from here, the league is only going to get bigger."

For the 2022 season, the Guelph Women's Football Team is looking for a volunteer coach.

“The pandemic and the shutdown has cut into at least a month’s worth of time that we would’ve had to practice and to get to know each other,” said Julian, mentioning any help from community coaches is appreciated.

Meaghan Walsh, a former University of Guelph student and founder of the team, she said it's exciting to see the team putting out calls for community coaching staff.

“It’s exciting to see that there is wider community support for this, it adds to the legitimacy for our sport," she said.

Walsh recalls forming the Guelph Women's Football Team in 2018 after playing on a mixed gender team in 2015. Missing football and not seeing anyone forming a team, she decided to do it herself.

“I was like, ‘Well, if no one else is going to do it, then I’m going to do it!’” said Walsh.

With the help of an executive team, Walsh said they got the ball rolling and the team just keeps growing bigger every year.

“It was quite the big undertaking, but worth it.”

To join the Guelph Women's Football, players are not required to have previous experience playing flag football, as women learn the rules and gain skills through the participating in the league.

“Once we found a coach, I put out the call for players, and said, ‘Listen, we just want to have a fun time playing, we will go to two tournaments this year, and you don’t need any experience,’” said Walsh.

Besides playing sports through intramural teams, Walsh mentions there are not a lot of opportunities for women to play football in Ontario universities.

“There was nothing, especially not at a level where you are actually competing with other women at other schools, where it is completely women-centric,” said Walsh.

Walsh adds she thinks the the women-centric aspect of the sport is important to many of the players who join.

“There’s a huge percentage of women that, after high school, they drop out of competitive sports, so, so many,” said Walsh, “and to have another opportunity to keep women active, to keep them in competitive sports, to give them a sense of community."

When Julian joined in 2019, she said it was an opportunity to stay active and meet other women. 

“A lot of the girls just become really passionate, to just start asking questions about why women aren’t really being represented the same in football as the men’s teams are.”

Currently, the Guelph Women's Football team is also working on becoming affiliated with the University of Guelph. It is the only team within the league that is not affiliated with a university. 

“With more legitimacy, more support from the community, more women wanting this opportunity to play and more schools supporting their athletes really heavily, it’s certainly going in that direction," said Walsh. 

Julian agrees. 

“Ultimately, the goal is to get women’s football as a varsity sport, eventually.”

To learn more about the Ontario Women's Intercollegiate Football Association, click here.