`Football for Femmes' unravels mysteries


September 01, 2006|By Janet Gilbert

Robin Zahor of Ellicott City spends at least two hours every weekend watching her sons play football.

"I sit there like a stooge," said Zahor, 45. "It's complicated to me, and I can't ask anybody -- I feel like an idiot."

"This is torture," she added.

So Tuesday night, Zahor and 29 other women huddled in the central library's meeting room to hear Diane Schumacher, athletic director at Howard Community College, present "Football for Femmes."

"I really need this class," Zahor said.

Schumacher starts off with a simple question: "Why are you all here?"

Natilie Moore, 36, of Laurel raises her hand. "I used to know all about [football], but I got away from it for 20 years," she said. "I don't know everything anymore."

"Neither do I," said Schumacher, "but even if you don't know everything about the game, I'll teach you how to fake it."

Betty Petrogallo, 78, of Columbia said she attends her grandson's football games, and would like to understand them better.

Allison Porter, 12, of Columbia came to the program with her father, Kevin. "I came because I want to play football," she said. "I'd like to join a team, learn the skills."

Said Kevin Porter: "Sometimes the games move kind of slow, and there are a lot of rules. Something would happen, and I'd have to say, `I forgot all about this [rule or play].'"

Schumacher, the first American woman to be inducted into the International Softball Federation Hall of Fame in 1993 and a 1996 U.S. Olympic softball team coach, combines the passion of an accomplished athlete and the patience of a teacher. Assisted by Shawn Burke, men's lacrosse coach at HCC, she begins with a history lesson on how the game evolved from soccer, to rugby and then to the football that we know, or rather don't know yet.

"The ball started out as round but elongated to facilitate passing," said Burke.

Schumacher then explains how there are distinct "teams" within what we call a football team -- the offense, the defense, and special teams.

"Doesn't it limit kids in leagues, when they only learn the skills of one specialized team?" a parent asks.

"These kids should be playing everything -- they should be learning," Schumacher replied. "Coaches shouldn't limit them, but winning has taken the place of sportsmanship."

Burke said, "Too many people have lost perspective. But it's not just in football -- it's a societal thing."

Next are formations, and the class sighs. Schumacher flashes on a screen a complicated diagram indicating 22 field positions, pointing out the right linebacker and the right guard.

"That's not the deodorant," said Schumacher.

When the material ramps up, Schumacher diffuses the tension with humor.

Porter raises her hand. "I don't get it," she said.

"What don't you get?" said Schumacher.

"The positions, their goals," said Porter.

"Good question," says Schumacher, who does her best to tie it all together over the next hour with slides on the game basics, including field size, number of players, game length, rules and strategy.

Schumacher cautions the class not to get mired in the details.

Burke agreed: "Don't worry about it -- a lot of this stuff -- if you to were ask your husbands or sons, they wouldn't know it either."

What is it about football that is purportedly so appealing to many men and so confounding to many women?

Michael Gurian, family therapist, author, and gender expert, points to research on differences in the male and female brain.

"There are biological brain differences, set chromosomally as part of the x and y genetic package," he said in a telephone interview from the Gurian Institute in Spokane, Wash. In his recent book, What Could He Be Thinking?: How a Man's Mind Really Works, Gurian writes: "... Male brains tend toward more development of such complex spatial skills as mechanical design, measurement, direction, abstraction and manipulation of physical objects."

Let's see -- the sport uses a small leather object, manipulated by men, abstracted by coaches and moves across a measured field in the direction of a goal. The perfect game for the male brain?

"It's the right strategy," Gurian said of Schumacher's class to teach football basics to women. "It's a schematic, complex, artful game. Men in general are going to enjoy it more, but women can have greater enjoyment with understanding."

Gurian adds, "All of us who have been coached know that coaches speak the language of love. The female brain may not gravitate toward these games, but there is a relational aspect to it."

Without realizing it, Moore speaks directly to Gurian's point about the nurturing side of the sport.

Growing up, Moore watched a lot of football with her father. "It's a special relationship you develop with a man, sitting and watching a game together," she said.

When her father died, Moore lost interest. "Then I got married to a football fan," she said, "and with the physical interaction [of tossing a football] with my stepson and daughter, the love came back."

Roslyn Cargile, 39, of Laurel, and her roommate, Carol Mojica, 38, stop to thank Schumacher on the way out.

An Ohio State alumna, Cargile says she always longed "to be able to follow the game from the beginning."

Mojica says she often "felt disconnected" from conversations about football, and hoped that learning more would allow her to participate as well as appreciate what people were saying.

"I didn't know what to expect, but she [Schumacher] was a great presenter," said Mojica. "I'm looking forward to more classes, and I'm surprised I'm saying that!" she said.

Zahor agrees. "It helped," she said. "But I need another course."


Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? If there is, Janet Gilbert, our neighbors reporter, wants to know about it.

E-mail Janet at janetgilbertsun@verizon.net, or call 410 313-8276. Janet also has a Web site: www.janetgilbertonline.com

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