Baltimore Burn prepares to blaze a trail to gold

Football: Women in the Baltimore area give the gridiron another try.

September 09, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

By almost every measure, women's football in Baltimore got off to a dismal start last spring. The Baltimore Burn finished its inaugural season with a 0-8 record. The player roster dwindled, from 46 to 27. Fans were hard to come by, too.

The men's pro team in town was basking in Super Bowl glory while the Burn slogged through a rookie season that included one particularly grim 90-22 loss.

All of which might suggest that interest in team tryouts for the Baltimore Burn's second season would be limited. But the 50 would-be players who showed up yesterday at the Bachman Sports Complex in Glen Burnie were unfazed. The fact that last season wasn't great football hardly mattered to women athletes who just wanted a crack at the one sport that has remained so resolutely a man's game.

"I don't know anything about football. Nothing at all," said Julie Ciccarelli, 23, of Cockeysville, who is a substitute high school teacher and coach and a former softball player for Towson University. "I guess they didn't do that well last year. But I just figured, I'm an athlete; I can learn."

So the second season of the National Women's Football League got under way with much the same spirit as the NFL opens training camp each summer or baseball's pitchers and catchers report in the spring. All optimism. All talk about what could be.

There were a few differences - such as pay. The Baltimore Burn's players, coaches and managers all are working without it. Each athlete who wanted to try out yesterday was required to pay $35 and show proof of health insurance. A second tryout session is scheduled Saturday. Those who make the team will have to juggle their football careers with their day jobs.

There was no sleek workout gear as the women sweated their way through push-ups and 40-yard dashes. No hordes of front-office types milling around.

There also was no doubt that this is serious football.

"If you're out here to dance around and have fun, play, whatever, this might not be for you," Adrian Mobley, a private personal trainer and the Burn's new volunteer head coach, warned the group at the start of the day.

"You know, you have your preconceived notions about ladies' football," Mobley said later, acknowledging that he didn't know what to expect when he went to his first women's game last year. "But when you walk out on the field, all you see are football players."

The NWFL got its start last year with 10 teams around the country, including the Baltimore Burn. The league is up to 16 teams for 2002, and it could have 18 when the season starts in April.

The April-to-June 2001 season marked the first time a full-contact women's football league has completed a scheduled season and held a championship game. The Nashville-based league set modest goals, recognizing that most of its players were strong athletes but new to the sport.

"I didn't go in expecting anything," said Renita Young, 28, of Parkville, who works at a real estate appraisal firm and who last season made her football debut as a "I watch football on television, so I pretty much knew what to expect," Young said.

Gina Schnell, 28, of Reisterstown is a stay-at-home mother of two and part-time bartender who played wide receiver for the Burn last year. She had never played the game before she went to tryouts with a friend as a lark, and she can still remember her first hit.

"It was one that I saw stars," said Schnell, who was back yesterday, trying out for next season.

The Baltimore team has a new ownership lineup, which includes two players, Dawn Muscato and Cheryl Scheckells, as well as the team's athletic director, Richard Coley, and his wife, Renee Coley.

Richard Coley is highly pragmatic about this new venture. The team only broke even last year, although that was doing better than some others. But he notes that attendance ($12 for adults, $5 for kids) steadily climbed last spring - from about 50 people at the first game at the Community College of Baltimore County at Dundalk to almost 1,000 by the season's end.

"We were kind of the black sheep of the league last year because we didn't win," Richard Coley said. "This year, we're going to be the gold standard."

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