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Dragons women's football team lights fire for athletes

June 14, 2011

Greendale - Melissa DeJesus and Amy Hudson were introduced to the Wisconsin Dragons by friends, Vera Akinyi saw them on Craigslist, and Dana Derrick noticed them on a poster in the gym where she works out.

Nevertheless, they all were intrigued by the Dragons, a local women's football team featuring players from area suburbs, and they decided to join.

These women and others may have taken different paths to the Dragons, but they have one thing in common - they are greatly enjoying themselves.

"I think it's a fantastic experience," said Michelle Olson of West Allis, who plays running back. "I've been an athlete my entire life. I played softball all through college and basketball during high school in Illinois, but I've never gotten to actually play a contact sport.

"It was quite the interesting experience to actually get involved in something that is so hard on the body. It really makes you wonder how good a shape you're in. It's really good and I thoroughly enjoy it. It definitely keeps me in shape."

Akinyi, an Oak Creek resident who plays on both the offensive and defensive lines, added, "I think it's awesome. I'm having a lot of fun."

Hudson, a running back and linebacker from West Allis, simply said, "It's probably the most fun I've ever had in my life."

The Dragons, with a current roster of 25 players, are in their first year of existence in the 60-team Women's Football Alliance. They were founded by McGee Steffes, who is now the team's starting quarterback, and Nancy Biker, who plays on the defensive line.

They practice at Buena Park in New Berlin and in Union Grove, and they play their home games at Greendale High School and Martin Luther High School in Greendale.

About 150 spectators came out for the team's final home game of the season on June 4.

Although most of the players are from the Milwaukee metro area, there are some from as far away as the Madison area and even a few from Iowa. They commute here for weekends, practicing on Friday night and staying over to play on Saturday evening.

Although they do not receive a great deal of publicity, their name did get out in various ways to the local players.

"I got into this sport without even realizing I was going to be getting into it," said Derrick, who is a chiropractor with an office in Greenfield. "I was looking for new ways of advertising and getting my clinic's name into the public. I saw a poster in my gym (advertising) tryouts for the Dragons.

"I didn't think I wanted to play, but rather volunteer my time to help the players during games and after practices. I went to a tryout and was just playing around, and I was asked to join the team."

Derrick accepted the invitation - with one condition.

"I didn't feel like it was smart to be getting hit with the possibility of breaking something," she said. "I need my hands for my career, so I told them I would play if I was the kicker only. They agreed to my terms, and I was on the team as the kicker and punter."

Ironically, Derrick soon learned that even the kicker is not immune from punishment, as she was nailed by an onrushing defender on a kick early this season.

Olson took a similar roundabout route onto the Dragons.

"I was the trainer for the team, doing sideline work, ankle taping and other things, and I actually decided to join after I graduated (from Milwaukee Area Technical College) a couple of weeks ago," she said. "It's nice to actually be on the field."

DeJesus, a Greendale resident who plays running back and linebacker, received her inspiration to join the Dragons from a friend who knew a little something about the Women's Football Alliance.

"I have a friend from high school who plays for (the Minnesota Machine)," DeJesus said. "She's played for several years and she was telling me once I moved (from Minnesota) to check out the Wisconsin teams. When I moved last July, I checked it out and thought the Dragons were a good fit."

She is glad she followed her friend's advice.

"I've met a lot of good people and learned a lot of stuff," DeJesus said. "There is a lot of teamwork, and you learn about yourself, how you can play with other people and dig deep for strength."

During the course of the season, the players have been able to establish a special bond.

"I don't hesitate to call these people family," Derrick said, "because that's what they are."

The experience has also offered the women chances for travel that they might not otherwise have had.

"We had the great opportunity to travel to Omaha (Nebraska) and Minneapolis, and we will go to Kansas City for another game," Derrick said.

The team, though, has struggled on the field, going 0-7.

The Dragons were competitive at the start, losing their opener, 20-12, in double overtime and dropping their second contest, 21-7, but a run of injuries has thinned their roster, and they lost their home finale, 46-0, to the Minnesota Machine.

"The team has been riddled with injuries left and right," said Derrick. "We have seen broken hands, torn ligaments, concussions, back injuries and others that have prevented us from being truly competitive."

The injury bug continued in the game against the Machine, as Olson left the game in the first half and Hudson exited after being hit hard on a running play.

Money has been another problem.

"Our team is running low on funds, and we are always looking for sponsors to help pay for the costs of renting fields, paying the refs and travel expenses," Derrick said.

She and the other players are hoping for additional support, so they can keep this experience alive for next season.

"This is our first year, and a lot of us haven't played before," Akinyi said. "This is a learning experience, and I'm having lots of fun."

DRAGON FACTS

WHO: The Wisconsin Dragons

WHAT: A women's football team, based in Milwaukee but featuring some local players

LEAGUE: The Dragons play in the Women's Football Alliance, a full-contact league that began play in the spring of 2009 and has more than 60 teams….the league plays 11-person tackle football with rules similar to the NFL….the National Conference has nine divisions with three or four teams in each division, and the American Conference has nine divisions of similar size

SPONSORS, PLAYERS SOUGHT: Anyone interested in helping can contact Dana Derrick at (262) 227-0700 or dana.derrick.dc@gmail.com. Information about the league can be found on its website, wfafootball.com.

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