The women who came to Catonsville Community Park yesterday were small in number but big in determination.
Ten women showed up to try out for the newly formed National Women's Football League. Battling chilly temperatures - and a healthy dose of skepticism from those who believe a viable female football league is about as possible as the Colts coming back - the women passed, blocked and chased their dream.
"I've always wanted to play football," said Dawn Muscato of Glen Burnie. "I was beyond psyched when I heard about this."
Lured by the chance to toss the pigskin professionally, the women came from Maryland, Virginia, Washington, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and paid $35 per person to try out for a possible team in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. Marie Olsen, owner of the Philadelphia Liberty Belles, said she expects even more women to show up to another tryout Saturday at the park in the 500 block of N. Rolling Road.
Olsen said many of the women came for the opportunity to be "a trailblazer and a pioneer."
"This league gives women the chance to do something they always wanted to do, and that's play football," said Olsen, who came from her home in Bucks County, Pa., to oversee the tryouts. "The rules are exactly the same as in the NFL; the only difference is that the women will be using a one-size smaller football. These women have the determination, the strength and the athleticism to play this game."
Catherine Masters, commissioner of the league and owner of the Nashville Dream team, said the response from women has been overwhelming. Masters, who started the newly formed league in August, said a pre-season featuring six games between Nashville Dream and the Alabama Renegades attracted thousands of male and female fans, many of whom have been surprised to find that the women can play as aggressively as their National Football League counterparts.
"We've had compound fractures and people thrown out of the game," Masters said during a telephone call from her Nashville office. "The bottom line is that these girls can play football."
But everyone admits that the league has a way to go before it attracts the fan base or sponsorship dollars of other professional sports. Teams have been established in Nashville, Alabama and Philadelphia. The league hopes to form more teams - with everyone from owners to coaches needed - and work out logistics such as uniforms.
"The equipment now is designed for men," said Maryanne Ormsby, assistant coach of the Liberty Belles. "Women have narrower shoulders and wider hips and, of course, the torso has to be protected more on women."
Those concerns were far from the minds of the women who turned out yesterday. The women grunted, grimaced and picked up a lot of grass stains as they sought their place on the squad.
Ormsby, a former middle school football coach, yelled out instructions as she scouted the women for speed, strength and agility.
"What you don't want to do is stand straight up," Ormsby called out as the women practiced blocking. "You do that and you are going to get knocked on your keister."
Muscato, a computer programmer, wore her Ravens sweatshirt with the hopes of channeling some of the talent of her idol.
"I'm a Ravens' ticket holder and it's partly superstitious because it seems like every time I wear something with a team logo on it they win," Muscato said. "Ray Lewis is my favorite player and hopefully if I make the team, I would like to play middle linebacker and wear number 52."
Lisa Fineman, a 29-year-old Spanish teacher from Mount Washington, said she often plays on co-ed football teams to keep her skills sharp. If the men doubt her abilities, they very quickly become believers, she said.
"Usually I shatter a lot of stereotypes when I play with them," Fineman said. "It shows them that women can be athletic and that we are out there to have fun and improve our playing ability just like they are."
Dressed in her uniform, Meg Madden (no relation to John) came with the full support of the little patients she treats as a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital in Washington, Madden, who grew up with three brothers, said she has wanted to play football since she was age 3.
"Back then, the options for me were either cheerleader or mascot," Madden, 28, said. "Men don't know what it's like to be told they can't do something they love to do."