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A new playing field

COURTESY OF TEAMONTHREE.COM

COURTESY OF TEAMONTHREE.COM

Forrest Canaday, Contributor

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When the words “professional football” are heard, the average person tends to imagine scenes of large stadiums, thousands of rowdy fans tailgating before games, and of course, testosterone-laden men violently tackling each other on a field. For players of the Tampa Bay Inferno and their manager and wide receiver coach, Lori Johnson, those words carry a somewhat different meaning.

The Tampa Bay Inferno is Tampa’s very own women’s professional football team. They are a part of the Women’s Football Alliance, the largest women’s tackle football league in existence, which is based in California and spreads to over 50 teams.

Although it is only the team’s third year in existence, it has made great strides both on and off the field and shows no signs of slowing down. Three years after the start of their program, the Inferno team has grown from 15 members to their current roster of 50, with a winning record of 20-5.

Like with most nonprofit organizations, the biggest obstacle the Inferno faces is funding. All of the women on the field are there solely for the love of the sport and must balance full-time jobs and families with their passion. In order to overcome this challenge, Lori Johnson has a plan.

“We definitely want to grow in the community,” Johnson says. In order to establish the Tampa Bay Inferno as a legitimate and long lasting team, unlike several of its predecessors, creating a relationship with local organizations will be essential, and Johnson understands this challenge.

“We’re looking forward to making appearances at more numerous events than in the past,” says Johnson. The team’s manager is not merely looking for supporters that will provide funding, either. She wants the team to leave a positive impact in their surrounding area.

“We have a lot of community service events that involve children,” Johnson says. In the past, the Inferno players have volunteered at a variety of programs.

“We’ve done Healthy Kids Day, we’ve done a summer camp at MOSI, and we have reading literacy weeks that we’ve worked with YMCA at elementary schools,” Johnson says. The team integrates their sport and experiences into reading in order to relay a positive message to the children.

“We take the curriculum that The Y teaches, and we share a story with the summer campers. We incorporate the story with character building while at the same time educating them of what we do, teaching them to be physically active, and why it’s important to keep physically active.” While Johnson and the team stress the importance of staying fit and living a healthy lifestyle, their underlying message is a simple one that is closely connected with women’s tackle football.

“We’re just trying to teach life lessons through the sport. You know, respect, self discipline and commitment, and also, to teach them that no matter if it’s a girl or a boy, if they have goals or dreams, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve them.”

For more information about the Tampa Bay Inferno visit www.tbinferno.com.

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A new playing field