The football fields of Saskatoon have welcomed a new league this season and they are ready to make a name for themselves. Female Athletes Tackling Excellence (FATE) is Saskatoon’s first high-school girls tackle football league, led by an all-female coaching staff.
Up until this fall, if Saskatoon girls — and those from surrounding areas — wanted to play tackle football, they had to join a team that was predominantly, if not all, high-school boys. The lack of options for young girls interested in playing tackle football within the city became a noticeable concern for a few veterans of the Saskatoon Valkyries, the city’s women’s tackle football team that has existed since 2011.
Emmarae Dale, head coach of the FATE program’s Vortex team, and Reed Thorstad, head coach of the Archers, experienced first-hand what it was like to have an interest in a sport that was not available within their city when they were in high school. In the years since, other cities in the province have started girls tackle football programs, leaving Saskatoon trailing behind.
“It felt like it was something that was missing in Saskatoon. We wanted to catch up to other places throughout the province and make it a priority to do so,” said Dale.
With those types of thoughts and a “love for the sport” in mind, the pair worked alongside Michelle Duchene and Marci Halseth with the support of Saskatoon Minor Football to launch the program. To get a feel for the interest of the league, they held a two-hour camp. To say it was a success is a bit of an understatement.
“We held a camp in June and around 70 girls [ranging from 8th to 12th grade] attended, which proved the value of creating the league this fall,” said Thorstad.
And for Dale, the attendance of the camp showed that this league needed to be made possible, “no matter what.”
The FATE program started mid-September and is made up of approximately 40 players which were split into three, six-aside teams. The Archers, the Vortex and the Rogues, coached by Jaime Lammerding, have around 12 players each. At FATE practices, the players work with their individual teams and together as one program to develop their tackle football skills.
With close to 90 per cent of the players not having prior tackle football experience, FATE provides the opportunity for them to build their confidence and abilities in a safe environment. Dale, Lammerding and Thorstad, who have played tackle football for the Valkyries, Team Saskatchewan and Team Canada, hope that the FATE players will one day follow in their footsteps and enter the senior women’s level. But for now, the coaches are having “a fun experience” sharing their knowledge with the players and watching them grow.
“Over the last few weeks, we have seen the team experience a crazy amount of improvement and understanding of the game. It is really exciting to see it happen that quick, and I know we will continue to see that skill and understanding develop throughout the rest of the season,” said Thorstad. “The program is supposed to offer a fun, energetic, and competitive environment where players feel confident to ask questions, try new things and challenge themselves so they can see themselves grow.”
“We want them to become better people on and off the field, with their wellbeing placed first,” added Dale.
The FATE six-aside teams wrapped up play on Oct. 18, but the program has one more game to go. On Oct. 28, Saskatoon will travel to Regina for a meeting with the Regina Victorias to play a nine-aside game. The Victorias are a part of the Prairie Girls Football League (PGFL), which also features Estevan Viragos, Moosomin Generals, Melville Vipers and Yorkton Lady Gridders.
However, as the FATE program approaches the end of its first season, the future looks bright. All those involved with the program hope that it will only increase in numbers next year and that girls will now see a pathway for themselves in sport that hadn’t existed before.
“It is really important to create a space that is designed for young girls. There have been girls playing on high school teams for years, but to be able to play with their peers and have that team together is crucial,” said Dale.