Cleat Geeks

What about the 45%?

Over 116 million Americans say they are a fan of the NFL. That’s quite a bit of people, but were you aware that 45% of that number is made up of women? That’s right just about 58 million American Women are fans of the NFL. But you wouldn’t know that just by paying attention to their advertisement. So what about the 45%?
Another mind boggling statistic you may be unaware of is that women control 80% of every households buying power. That’s right, they make 80% of all purchases. Let’s face it, money flows thru women’s fingers. You would think that a multi billion dollar organization such as the NFL would recognize that and stop patronizing women in such a fashion.
In 2013, the NFL realized just how important a woman’s role in their sport really is. So what did they do? They draped every jersey and hat in pink, they began creating “home-gating” items and showcased how to dress or cook. I mean what are we? Still in the 50’s?

Yes, we women like to talk smack and drink a beer or two like any other hard working American on any given Sunday. But what about the real concerns of women across America? As we have heard plenty of arguments regarding Domestic Violence, animal cruelty, and character as a whole, are these truly the only things that matter to women?


Even now, the NFL is going thru a Domestic Violence case (currently in appeal at the time of this article) with rookie phenom RB Ezekiel Elliott. Since before the beginning of time, the NFL has been synonymous with violence. You have to play angry to win so many players live angrily. Let’s face it, it’s a violent sport and I’m sure many of us would question the ability of a player if they arranged flowers in their downtime, but the fact remains on a domestic front, NFL doesn’t seem to have a good track record. Going back as far as I can personally remember with Ray Carruth. While the NFL can’t help what happens behind closed doors, it certainly can have a more open door policy for its victims. It appears that the player is the one protected, for the most part. I mean let’s face it, the NFL’s main concern is to generate more money, not remain a pillar of character for America to stand behind. No matter how much we attempt to make it that way.


If you are part of an average American household, you are married and have approximately 3 kids (one of which is probably a boy…. Or in my case…. A girl who is a tomboy with the exception of eyeliner and lipstick). Chances are sports play some prevalent role in your household. Thanks to technology, there are many ways to consume NFL. No longer is it solely cable, satellite, and radio. There is nothing like loading up the kids and taking a road trip to a big sporting event. The eyes and excitement of your family can’t compare to anything else in this world. However, not as many as you may think get to experience this. With teams building larger and larger stadiums, with more and more seats, and features, and clubhouses, and glitz and glam; the price of one ticket, let alone four are just not in the budget. This is probably what led to the craze of tailgating… Or as the NFL has so eloquently put it home-gating (which price wise… Isn’t that far off from ticket prices).


The one thing that unites every woman, regardless of background, ethnicity, household income or size, is the need to be heard. And I’m not just saying the time to speak but really not take the time to understand. As the NFL has taken a huge step forward in listening to its players and staff concerning rule changes or equipment changes, so also it should its 45% of its own fan base. There has been an increase in female sports analysts as of late, but female fans or fantasy players are hardly represented. Making it mainstream can only increase your popularity, and possibly increase that 45% to a controlling portion of the fan base. Hmmmm? That maybe what they are attempting, to slow the inevitable 51% share of the fan base.


This issue may have a split right down the board regardless of gender. The reality of the matter is we women, are raising son’s who might end up playing this game we adore. I can not fix my lips to speak to them as children, and tell them it is right to stand up for others, to help others, and to truly understand the rite’s given to them by being simply born here; and then at the same time turn a blind eye to many horrible things going on in our own country, much less the world. Personally, I know I have had the conversation many times with my teenager that if she ever were to make it into the elite 1% that she should never forget where she came from and make sure to help those less fortunate than her. I know she understands that whole heartedly, because she stands up to bully’s every day for someone getting picked on, she confides in me on her ideas to save the world we live in, and more importantly she is touched with empathy and compassion at the same footage we all have watched over and over again on mainstream news. So how can I, as a female NFL fan, who also happens to be a small business owner, but more importantly a mother; who takes pride in instilling morality, integrity, honor, and courage… how can I ever talk down to someone who is just trying to live up to the person who fulfills his mother’s vision of what they have taken time to teach you. These men have been given a platform that has changed their lives, and some of them want to use it to actually make a difference. If the protests bother you, the problem isn’t the player, it’s you. Because if it’s bothering you, then you need to explore why. And what you discover is how it has absolutely nothing to do with you personally, as an individual. But it has everything to do with can we stand together as one despite our differences? Don’t we teach our children better? Then we also, need to be better that we teach them.

When you see the numbers in your face, instead of just biased news pieces or marketing content, you wouldn’t know women make up as much of the NFL’s fanbase as it certainly does.
This season in particular it will be interesting to see how the female population will fluctuate considering the NFL’s weebly wobbly stance on a no tolerence issue. Especially, in light of how flipped the NFL has handled these issues before. I would sincerely, encourage any and all woman who do enjoy the NFL to weigh in on your thoughts on this process or any other that lights a fire under you. Our voices must be heard. We are the 45%. Our thoughts matter just as much as our dollars.

WNBA All-Star Game

Led by Mya Moore, the All star game’s MVP for the second consecutive year, the Western All-Stars defeat the Eastern All-Stars 130-121. Moore led all scorers with 23 and the reigning reigning league MVP Nneka Ogwumike added 22.
The Western All-Stars had the experience advantage, as their roster combined for 55 total all star selections. Moore hit 5 three pointers and Sue Bird had a game record 11 assists.
The youthful East team was led by Jonquel Jones with a game-high 24 points, . There were eight first-time selections on the East roster.
The East got good production off their bench, as Layshia Clarendon, Candic Dupree and Allie Quigley each had 14 points.
Sue Bird was the center of attention, having the All-Star game played in her hometown of Seattle. She received the loudest ovation when her name was announced. Bird also tied a record for the most All-Star appearances with 10.
Bird controlled the game, as she played the role as the distributor. She set up West teammates Candice Parker, Mya Moore, and  Nneka Ogwumike.
Image result for wnba three point competition
For the first time in eight years the three point competition was at halftime of the All-Star game. Bird was the favorite, but only finished with seven points after the first round. Sugar Rodgers made her first eight three’s and her first nine out of ten.
Unfortunately for Rodgers, she met her match in the final round against Quigley, who currently is second in the WNBA in three pointers. She was nearly flawless in the finals making 19 of her 25 shots outlasting Rodgers, who scored 19 points.
A $10,000 dollar donation will be made by the league to the Patrick Quigley Memorial Scholarship in honor of her dad.


The Belizean Bruiser – UFC’s Bantamweight Rising Star

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UFC. Ultimate Fighting Championship. The images that come to mind when I even say that make me cringe. From sitting on the opponent’s chest and beating their face in, to submissions and arm-bars, to blood and more blood. Truly a violent Gladiator sport. Whoever would have thought a lady… a school teacher lady at that… would be such an X-Factor in this sport? Oh, and did I mention that we’re related? Marion “Belizean Bruiser” Reneau, the fastest female rising star to grace the cage. While Marion may not be your typical UFC Fighter, she is an all star in many ways. 

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UFC’s Bantamweight Rising Star

The Bruiser has been training for 10 years in the sport. Considering she was 29 when she began training, and will be 40 in a few days, she may have age against her, but that’s not how she see’s it. When she was turned down for The Ultimate Fighter 18 (TUF) solely due to age. Asking her about this experience, she says, “There was no concern on my behalf, their only concern is a 40-year-old beating them up.” This must be true if President of UFC Dana White, publicly apologized for not allowing her on TUF, while being okay with younger girls who eat at In and Out while training. Reneau is in her prime and always willing to take the next giant leap. She has always been athletic from a very young age. She excelled in soccer in High School, ran track and was a heptathlete in college. That training not only has given her a physical and mental advantage, but she is a beast at time management.

All of us want to accomplish goals and do more with our lives. But few actually do it. To Reneau sitting around and waiting for something or someone to change your life is a no-no. “If you want to change your life you have to take one step forward at a time to get it done. Saying it over and over won’t do it, and making excuses won’t cut it. I hear all the time I’m too busy, I have kids, I work full-time. I look at them and say, and so do I.” When not in the Cage, The Bruiser educates high schoolers (consisting of lesson planning, teaching, grading assignments, as well as classroom behavior), is a mother to 1 young man and 1 cool dog, and her training (including 4-mile runs and several classes with multiple styles). When summer or school breaks hit, she is full-time training and full-time momming. She also admits that while she may eat some Doritos or Gummy Bears, her guilty pleasure to wash all the day away is working in her garden.

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Reneau’s record sits at 7 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw. While it is public knowledge that she doesn’t accept the draw decision, she knows exactly what she needs to do for it not to happen again. I asked her if she could expand her thoughts on what she didn’t accept about the draw, and here is what she had to say, “It’s plain and simple, yes I did win that fight. But because of the location of the fight, the judges were biased. I think in order to resolve that, we need to bring international judges for fights that occur in countries where the culture is strong.” When asked if this was an ongoing issue in the UFC fighter community she expounded saying, “Oh Heck Yes! Especially in Brazil! The judging out there is the worst, you either have to finish your opponent or completely dominate them. Round 1 was close between my opponent and me, but I won hands down and Round 3 was definitely a win for me as well.” It’s no secret MMA judging criteria have faced many controversies over the years, and even with changes and propositions like Reneau’s or even this one, the high culture aspect may never be changed. After all Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is just that, Brazilian. It also isn’t the first sport to have issues with international judging.

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The Belizean Bruiser Beatdown

Scenario’s such as the draw and any other perceived setbacks have only made Reneau, a better competitor. Each fight she comes away with another nugget on how to improve her training. She knows it is a process and part of the process is to mentally be stronger, to train smarter, to train harder, as well as to learn to “hear my own voice and say no when I need to.” This mental breakthrough came after participating in one of the worst training camps of her life where she entered into a fight injured, which also caused her to lose the fight. During fights she is mentally clear and relying on exceptional training, before a fight, her mantra is KILL or BE KILLED. Currently, she is focused on climbing to the top and making as much money as she can in the sport. She doesn’t want to jump all the way up to the top of the leaderboards, though she does see herself there.

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Recently she has been calling for her next fight on social media she doesn’t have any specific opponent in mind, but she did say, “I want a Top-10 opponent. I have earned it.” Currently, she is ranked #12 in the Women’s Bantamweight class. She can do this if she sticks to what she has learned from her previous fights. “I want to focus on finishing my fights. It seems like every time I let it go to decision, I end up losing.” When I sit back and look at the women’s rankings, and knowing she wants a top-10 opponent, I would set her up against Julianna Pena, with similar amounts of fights and loses it should be a no-brainer choice for those making the match-ups, as well as provide a high enough ranked opponent for Reneau to make the mark she deserves to make.

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Calling out the next fight.

Wearing many hats is never easy, but Marion Reneau does it with grace. One of the highlights of her day is when her students Snapchat her while they are playing the UFC game as her, or random tickle attacks plaguing the Reneau household which can turn into a grappling match at any given moment with her son. These are the moment’s the nearly 40-year-old, mother, teacher, and MMA fighter will never take for granted.

Weigh-in Wednesday: Julianna Peña

The Venezuelan Vixen”, Julianna Peña finally has an opportunity to realize her dreams and contend for the Women’s UFC Bantamweight title. Before her potential title fight, Peña will have to get past, quite possibly a tougher fighter than current Champ Amanda Nunes. Valentina Shevchenko, fresh off a victory over Holly Holm, also has the belt in her sights. Shevchenko most notably has three Muay Thai victories over current 115 lbs. Champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

Weight definitely plays a huge factor in these women’s fights. Jedrzejczyk is not only undefeated in MMA, but no one has really even come close to taking her title away from her. Shevchenko has some very impressive striking, but to be able to beat Joanna means that it is even better than we have seen so far in her UFC career.

    Julianna has showcased some very impressive striking herself, but no women compare when it comes to her MMA grappling. At UFC 200, Peña walked right through a very tough Cat Zingano, who has an impressive win in her resume over Amanda Nunes. The UFC women’s bantamweight division has shown a pattern of wins and losses surrounding its top contenders. We keep running into scenarios that start with a girl who beat a girl, but none of those scenarios involve Julianna.
    Peña has two losses on her record. One loss was due to a decision, and the other, a doctor stoppage. Even early in her career, Peña showed that she would be a tough opponent to finish. Julianna was the first female fighter to win The Ultimate Fighter tv show when she easily defeated opponents that were coached by Ronda Rousey. None of Peña’s wins from the show reflect on her record because they were not immediately posted due to filming, but you cannot take away the experience that a tournament like The Ultimate Fighter gives you.
    Peña is too smart to get caught early in the fight, and Shevchenko will be looking for an early grappling exchange, so I see this fight going into the later rounds. This heavily favors Julianna as her fighting style feeds on suffocating the life out of her opponents. We look to have another amazing main event featuring two of the world’s top women fighters. I expect an unforgettable fight when these ladies meet this Saturday night in Denver.

Women of Sports: Yashi Rice

“Believe in the impossible dream,” which is exactly what Yashi Rice is doing. Yashi is a professional singer turned football star. With 6 seasons playing for the Chicago Bliss in the Legends Football League (LFL), 4 championship games, 3 championship wins, 3 all-star team nominations, 1 reality television show on Oxygen, appearances on shows such as 20/20 and Bravo, Yashi is just getting warmed up.

Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Yashi is the youngest of 6 siblings. She attended Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) on a track scholarship, but music was always her passion. After earning her degree in Speech Communication, Yashi sang professionally on an independent label. Unfortunately, with the music industry being up-and-down, she was forced to take a break. Just trying to figure out life and which way to go, she found football in 2010 and it all just took off from there.

CG: You come from a large family, would you like to also have a large family someday?
YR: Coming from a large family, you kind of don’t have a choice but to be in that mindset of just kind of running that big family and everything so for sure, that’s definitely something that I want.

CG: Your brother, Simeon Rice, has a Super Bowl ring. What would be your ultimate sports prize?
YR: A gold medal and the Olympics would be my ultimate prize. I mean it’s not going to happen now, but that to me would be the ultimate sports prize.

CG: You also are a talented singer. Have you ever written a song?
YR: I actually have a song and it’s on iTunes. It’s called, “If I Had My Way,” written by Rico Love and produced by Jim Johnson. I have a lot of music that I have written and I’ve worked with a lot of people in the industry.

CG: I personally have seen the Chicago Bliss out and about in the community at different events. Do you enjoy being a role model and going out in the community?
YR: Absolutely. I definitely think that being part of the Bliss and doing different community events is important to me, because that’s where I started. Both of my parents, but especially my mom always stressed the importance of giving back and being part of the community. When I went to college, I started a few organizations for the women on campus. We were involved in a lot of community events. I’ve always been a part of that and I do love the fact that the Bliss keeps the tradition going by supporting different events.

CG: Do you and your teammates do any charity events—especially for the holidays?
YR: We always try to do something. A few of us were playing in a charity basketball game a few months ago. I didn’t play, but I was part of it. Some Legends players and Chicago Fire and Police Department played. It was a lot of fun. I did the photoshoot for it and a couple of the Legends players actually played in the game. A lot of girls on our team have their own different organizations that they like to support, so you know it’s not always just one thing, but many different things that we are always a part of.

CG: After winning the 2016 LFL Legends Cup, did you get to hold the trophy?
YR: Yes, I not only got to hold the trophy, but each girl gets a week with the cup. We get to take pictures with it. This year I only had it for a day because my schedule was so busy. But in the years past, I’ve done photoshoots with the cup. It’s always a lot of fun. We just had our championship party at Moe’s Cantina in River North and we had all 3 cups there. It was cool!


CG: Was the cup heavier or lighter than you expected?
YR: The cup is really heavy. A funny story about the cup . . . The cup comes with a top, but it seems like Chicago just has this thing where somebody always breaks it. Unfortunately, in the locker room I broke the top off it this time. It’s kinda funny because it’s always a fluke, but within a couple of minutes someone always breaks it and it’s a very sturdy cup, we’re just tomboys. [Laughs]

CG: What was your immediate reaction after winning the championship?
YR: As a Chicago Bliss team, we have won 3 times. Each time winning is always different. It feels great, but I would say the very first time we won was the best because we had been a part of the league for so long and were playing against a team that we could not seem to pass. Just a culmination of the years that we put into it and everything – it was indescribable. I’ve won individual accomplishments on the track, but I’ve never won a team championship. I know a lot of girls didn’t really think of it until we actually won like, “Wow this is the first time for a lot of us where we actually won a team championship,” and we’ve all been athletes our entire lives. From the first to the third it feels great each time. It feels right. I would say this last championship it just kinda felt like, of course we are gonna win, because that’s the level of confidence we have.

CG: What was the most trying part of this past season for you? Who is the unsung hero of your team?
YR: The most difficult part about this past season was probably my mental preparation. I knew this was going to be my last season as a regular season player. I have one more game left as an All-Star. Sometimes you get lazy and it’s kinda fighting through the laziness. It’s like going to school on the last day every single day until the end of the season. I had a lot of fun, a lot of memorable experiences, but for me—just going to practice was difficult.

I would say that the unsung hero of the team would be Kim Catoe Cihi. We call her Kimbo Slice. [Laughs] She is just an amazing teammate and this was also her last year. This is her first year being chosen for the All-Star team. Kim has been around for all three championships, but I feel like she never got the recognition that she truly deserved. She’s just a huge part of our team. She’s been the unsung hero for me since she started because her numbers are just crazy, but she doesn’t typically get nominated for things.

CG: How did you become a defensive lineman? Was that the first position you tried out for?
YR: I tried out my first year and the coaches looked at me based on speed, agility, and my aggression. We always have this thing where you are either a “hitter” in this league or a “hittee.” Hitters are the ones, who deem themselves badasses in the squad. I guess my first year the coaches just new that I was a defensive player. It’s really funny, because I originally thought coming into the league that I’d be a running back because I’m fast. It worked out that I play defense. I watched my brother play defense my entire life. He played in the NFL, so I guess in my sub-conscious I was just soaking in the knowledge through the years and it worked out. I really cannot imagine playing any other position.

Most of the girls in this league are all collegiate athletes or even some professional athletes in different sports, that don’t really have a whole lot of experience playing football the way that we play it, so there would be really no way of knowing if you’d be good in certain positions. If somebody came from baseball or something like that they’d probably get a shot at playing quarterback. But typically you just come in and tryout. The coaches are all very knowledgeable of the sport. They know what they are looking for and they know what to look for to pick for certain positions, even if the girl has never played it before. It kind of just all works out in the end. I’ve seen girls come in wanting to play certain positions and they do terrible in it and then they get a shot at another position that they didn’t even think about and just completely excel. So that’s fun to watch.

CG: You mentioned “soaking in the knowledge through the years” of watching your brother play in the NFL. Did he help you learn the position or give you any advice?
YR: My brother did not believe in this sport at all my first year. It was not until he came to watch a game live that he not only became a believer in what we were doing, he became one of my biggest fans. When he saw how serious I was, he basically taught me much of what I know today.

The moment that capped my entire football career was this 2016 season when he not only did the coin toss at the final game, he practically coached me and my left D end Chantel Taylor #19 through the entire game. Our championship game was played in Scottsdale Arizona which happens to be the same city that drafted him 3rd pick overall in the 1996 NFL draft (Arizona Cardinals). That was probably my best game all season and we won our 3rd Championship. I still have one last All-Star/All-Fantasy game to play before I officially retire.

CG: What made you try out for the Bliss?
YR: Going back to the music, I was traveling, I was working with different people in the music industry, but unfortunately the music industry in itself—anybody who’s a part of it would tell you—just entertainment in general it’s a very difficult up and down process. Basically, I had a huge, huge budget. I was on an independent label and I lost the budget. I found myself after a performance at home to pick up the pieces and I was thinking, “What am I going to do now?” I was at a turning point in my life where I could continue to do music, but I’d have to do it in a different way because I no longer had the budget.

Because I’m an athlete, I feel like football just kind of found me because I was in a state of trying to figure out life and where to go. Randomly, a girl who played for the Bliss came to my show and met me after during the meet and greet. She was someone that I saw and she came up to me and was telling me that she liked to play football. She was in great shape and looked like a track athlete. From one track athlete to another you always know if someone runs track or not. She said she played football and she told me about the league. I looked it up and saw a game and things like that. At the time that I met her, I couldn’t tryout because I was traveling all over the place. One day I was at Panera Bread trying to set up for different shows and things like that here in Chicago and I came across an email of the Bliss tryout and I tried out. At that time there was maybe 400-500 girls at the dome trying out. I went in there and I already knew as soon as I saw it that I was going to make the team and that I’d do well. I tried out, beat out a bunch of girls and made the team and the rest is history.

CG: Did being the youngest of 6 kids make you more competitive? Do you think competitiveness is a good trait to possess when it comes to athletics?
YR: I definitely think that being the youngest and having 5 older siblings to look up to and my parents leading our family the way that they did—when you have a big family, I personally believe that the youngest falls into their own because you pick up everything faster because you see everything. When you are the oldest, you really don’t have any examples. In my family, I’m the youngest, but I was never spoiled. By the time I came along, my parents had 5 other kids they were just like, “Girl just go walk, go run, do whatever.” I was always competitive. I always looked at my siblings like, “Oh I want to do that.” Just being competitive, for me competitiveness is not just a sports thing. It’s how l live my life. The fact that I do play a sport is just an extension. Being competitive is just an extension of who I am as a human being in any sport that I play.

Absolutely! I don’t think that you can play a sport and not be competitive, because that’s what it’s about.

CG: When people say, “You are a woman playing a man’s sport,” what is your reaction?
YR: When people say that, I just tell them to put some cleats on and play and see how it feels. I say, “Yeah, I am a woman playing a man’s sport. I’m a woman who also has a college degree—at one point women weren’t allowed to have an education. I’m a woman who can vote—at one point, women couldn’t vote.” So I don’t really pay it any attention. Watch a game and you’ll see.

CG: As a fan, why should I come and watch a Chicago Bliss football game?
YR: From a fan to another fan, its more than just watching a football game. It’s an experience. The best example I have for that is this past year. Typically I don’t get to watch the game unless it’s on TV because I’m always in the game. Our conference games are always played the best of the east the best of the west in one night so it’s a double header. The best of each team go on to the championship wherever what city it is in. This year I was actually able to sit and watch the game after we won our game. And it was just so much fun to watch. It’s like watching American Gladiator—meets football—meets rugby—meets WWE wrapped all into one beautiful package. It’s an adrenaline rush, not only for the players, but for the people who watch the game. It’s something that you’ve never seen before. Something that you can’t even explain because I know when I watch the game, in the stands as a fan I was like—even though I had just played in the previous game—I was watching those girls play and first of all it looked like so much fun and as a second I was just thinking, “Damn, these girls are crazy! Who would actually do this?” You have to sacrifice your body. It’s just seeing something that you’ve never seen before. And experiencing something like you’ve never experienced before. As a fan and especially as a woman, I think it should motivate and can motivate anybody just in general to get out and just do whatever you feel like you want to do because we are out there doing things that we never imagined doing.

CG: Recently, you asked this question of your followers on your Twitter account, so I am very interested to hear your response, “What means the world to you?”
YR: True happiness. Living without fear. Just being free. Free to make my own decisions. Free to live exactly how I want to. Blazing my own trail. Never giving up. Giving back and leaving a legacy that will go on far past when I’m even here. That means the world to me. Leaving a legacy that will last a lifetime.

CG: You were chosen to play and represent the Chicago Bliss in the LFL All-Star game. What is your favorite football memory?
YR: I have so many over the years. My best memory is wining the very first championship with the Bliss. I could talk all day about the parties that we go to, the arguments that we have. Looking back on the league. I’ve had some life changing experiences and so much fun in this league. I would definitely say winning the championship the first time was the most memorable moment because I had never won a championship with a team ever. It was just an amazing feeling. We fought so hard and there was so much going on that year; and we won and it felt good.

CG: You have mentioned on social media that you are retiring from the LFL, why not one more season?
YR: I’ve played since 2010. My biggest accomplishments and my hardest life moments have been had while playing football. Every season something great or heart-wrenching terrible happens. And football has always been there. I’ve won 3 championships, made it to All-Star games, traveled. I’ve been on television, shot reality shows, been on Access Hollywood and Bravo, and so many things that I think all good things definitely come to an end. I’m ready to see what the next chapter of my life has for me, because luckily for me—I’ve been here for a little while now and every decade to me seems like we get better than the decade before so I’m really looking forward to pushing myself in a different way now. Once you’ve accomplished just about everything that you can accomplish I can stay and play another year, I’m not done because I can’t physically do it anymore. I’m done because I’m more excited about what tomorrow has. I’ve done everything that I can do and have accomplished everything that I can possibly accomplish in this sport. I’m ready to pass the torch to somebody else who has that fresh green eyes. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. And now I’m ready for tomorrow. I feel like tomorrow is going to be even greater than today. There are a lot of things I have the LFL to thank for. I cherish all of the moments that I’ve had. I’m ready for a new morning.

CG: What do you plan to focus on next?
YR: While I was actively playing in many previous interviews the question always came up, “Why do you play?” At one point it was because I always felt like everybody is fighting for something and it helps see that drive and push you. I’m ready to get back to my true first love which is music. I’m also ready to push myself in different ways. The sky is the limit. I really want to take the entertainment industry more seriously now. Because of things I have been able to accomplish in my life, I have no doubt that whatever I do, I’m going to take it to the moon and back.

When I first started playing in the LFL, I never imagined that I would be here 6 years later with the opportunity of being on a Docuseries on television and on 20/20. And just being on all of these different things I just can’t believe it. I think that with life in general, I just need to stay positive and stay the forth and do the right things, I’m just so excited! Entertainment, music, the possibility that at some point I gotta get serious about starting my own family. I’m excited about all of those things. And those are all the things that I really—not necessarily starting a family tomorrow—but definitely just my relationship with God is also important so I want to focus on that. So many things that I want to focus on now. With football, because that was such a huge part of my life, for me at this point it would be almost impossible to do both. I’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work.

CG: All of the previous women of Cleat Geeks have played on men’s teams. Have you ever played on a men’s team?
YR: I played co-ed flag football after I was already on the Bliss. I played for a few years. When I first went to college and was running track, my coach actually had me working out with the guys because of how hard I went in practice. The workout that the girls had just wasn’t enough, so my coach was like, “You’ll be the only girl at the school on the track team running with the boys track team.”

CG: Now for a quick round of Rapid Fire!
Favorite word? Win
Puppies or kittens? Puppies!!!!!!
Craziest fan story? Marriage proposals are always fun.

A note from Yashi: Any women that have looked at the Bliss and want to be a part of it or the league in general or anything that they aspire to want to do or be, believe in the impossible dream. There’s no cap on your success. Believe in you when no one else does. Your wildest dreams can and will come true as long as you put the work in and believe. Just believe.

To keep up with Yashi and see what her next move is, follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @yashiexperience.

Women of Sports: Ashton Brooks

“Try something new and completely own it!” That’s exactly what Ashton Brooks did this past fall going into her senior year at Dow High School.

The original idea to play football came from three of Ashton’s best friends, Michael Bricault, Jaik Bovee, and Austin Stredney. Their high school was in desperate need of a kicker and with Ashton’s soccer background, her friends were confident she could fill the role.

“I knew it was my senior year and I had virtually nothing to lose, so I was willing to try,” Brooks recalled. Over the next summer, Brooks worked with her brothers to prepare herself for what she was about to get into. “I always loved the atmosphere found at a football game and the excitement that the players got from the crowd, so I wanted to be a part of that in the future.”

Photo by; Susanne Barnes Photography

CG: Please tell me a little about yourself.
AB: Growing up I’ve always lived with my older brother (Malcolm, 19), my younger brother (Xander, 14) and both parents (April & Malcolm Brooks). I’ve played instruments (piano, violin, electric guitar); have been involved in two Spring musicals at Dow; and have participated in volleyball, basketball, soccer, football; and recently made the varsity cheer team at Dow High.

CG: What is growing up in Midland, Michigan like?
AB: Growing up in Midland, the majority of people are very privileged as most parents work at Dow Chemical. Mine do not. My mother is an Administrative Director of Nursing at Heartland Health Care in Saginaw, Mi. My father is a Disc Jockey. There is not a huge variety of diversity here, but for the most part, I have always been accepted by my community and its members.

CG: Have you always been involved in athletics?
AB: Yes, I’ve played soccer since I was 4 years old, basketball until this winter, volleyball from 6th-10th grade, football this fall, and now cheer this winter.

CG: What position in soccer do you play?
AB: In soccer I am a striker. I had always played center midfield until my freshman year at Dow when I was the only freshman to make the varsity team, and now I love my position as a striker and being the goal scorer for all of my teams.

CG: Do you credit your success on the gridiron to your hard work and practice with soccer and or basketball?
AB: I truly am not the best athlete when it comes to basketball. I am fast and can play defense on the court, but cannot actually shoot to save my life. I am much better with my feet than my hands and do credit a lot of my success on the football field to that on the soccer field.

CG: You may be most famous for your football, but you recently received a partial scholarship for soccer and you are also on the basketball team. Therefore, I assume you would encourage other high school athletes to participate in multiple sports?
AB: I absolutely do encourage others to participate in multiple activities, though that does not necessarily have to be an athletic sport. I just feel like as a person, you might not get the same opportunities in college and beyond that you will get in high school, so you should make the most out of your time while you’re in it. Experience new things, try different areas of interest and you may find something you love that you didn’t think of before.

CG: Do you think there are 2 high school sports that work really well together for the high school athlete?
AB: I think that the best two sports in high school that could coincide would be the pairing of soccer, and track. Both sports test your physical ability and may help to improve your speed and accomplishments at the other.

CG: Since you play 3 different sports, how much do you think about injuries that may occur from playing and practicing on multiple sports?
AB: Obviously participating in multiple sports does in fact increase your ability to get injured, though I am not a person who thinks about that chance too often. I simply try to stay positive and focused on what I can do to help out my teams, not what could happen to me if something went wrong.

CG: Has it been harder for you to play sports because you are a woman, or because you are African American?
AB: Being a girl on the football team has made things more stressful than what it might be for a boy, yes. For starters, it is much harder to get my shoulder pads on and over my chest than it would be for a boy. It causes others to sometimes look at me differently and ask if I truly am on the team, but I think it’s just exciting to see how curious everyone becomes and to prove that girls can in fact do what the boys can.

CG: Any tips or advice for student-athletes balancing studies, sports, and family/friends?
AB: The only advice I can give is to make the most out of the time you have with the activities you can be involved in. Athletics are a great way to meet people and make friends, but studies should always come before anything else because that is what will truly let you go far in the world.

Photo by; Susanne Barnes Photography

CG: I would not be doing my job if we did not discuss the recent Instagram post. How did you see the post or who brought it to your attention?
AB: The post was brought to my attention by a fellow soccer teammate. She saw the post, and was offended for me, and appalled by the image so she simply texted me the photo just to ensure my knowledge of it.

CG: Were you hurt more that someone would do this? Or that it was a former MPS student?
AB: The fact that the student at one point attended MPS, did not truly have an effect on me or the situation at all. I knew that I could not base an image of my entire community that has always supported me, on the simple ignorance of one individual in particular. I was upset that the student would post something so negative and racially unforgiving in the first place. I had no idea that the racial issues in our community were still such a large part of 2016, as I thought we as a society had moved on from that sort of thinking. I had no idea that there were still people out there with minds like this who felt like this would ever be okay, and I was upset that I still had to be a focus to tell people that racism cannot be tolerated.

CG: How did it feel when Midland Public Schools Superintendent Michael E. Sharrow went to bat for you publicly letting everyone know that MPS will not put up with discrimination of any kind?
AB: It was a tremendous feeling. At that point, I realized that I was on the upper hand of the whole situation; and to have his support was huge. Immediately after the post was noted, it became quite overwhelming from my perspective and it felt good to have him be able to help me speak out and let the community know how I felt.

CG: High school athletes are discriminated against every day. Some because of their race, some because of their gender, and other reasons. What advice would you give those athletes based on your experiences?
AB: From what I have experienced, my opinion is that we/they should always just take the high road. Don’t let others tear you down, when they go low, you go high.

CG: Rumor has it that you also have a great singing voice. Have you ever received the opportunity to sing at a sporting event?
AB: I have sang the National Anthem at two of my high school basketball games, as well as for an ALS Walk in honor of one of my previous teachers.

CG: If yes, please describe the moment. If no, would you like to—if given the opportunity?
AB: There truly is not a lot to describe, I was given the opportunity and I took it. Singing comes naturally and easy to me and the National Anthem is a melody I’ve grown up knowing the words to, so I don’t often spend a lot of time perfecting my song or voice. I kind of just wing it and hope I don’t have any major embarrassments.

CG: Who are your role models?
AB: Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, those guys that create the #BlackExcellence videos, and the men at Central Michigan University involved in the Men About Change (MAC) group that gave me a football signed by them. All four of these groups show me what it truly means to be a successful leader and I look up to every single one of them.

CG: Can you describe a typical practice?
AB: When it comes to the football season, on Wednesday’s I would go to team meetings, watch film, warm up with the team, then go outside to take kickoff along with our other kicker at Dow. After that, I had a kicking net that I would practice taking kicks into from all sorts of angles and distances, using a kicking stand or asking one of my teammates to hold the football on my tee for me if they weren’t too busy (this was usually the job of anyone on the team who was injured in some way and excluded from practicing with the rest of the team). By the end of practice, we usually condition and stretch together as a team, then go back inside the school to weight-lift in the loft area.

On Thursday’s, the routine would start mostly the same with coach having team members stand up for “callouts” to ensure that everyone knows what their job is for the upcoming game and when they are expected to be on the field. When we finally make it outside, we start with extra points and field goals taken between the uprights while setting up different scenarios of game-like situations. As the drill wraps up, the entire team crowds around me and begins to yell all sorts of comments at me to distract me while I take different field goals from different hashes on the field. We call them “pressure kicks.” This may have been the most intimidating part of every practice but I did find it very beneficial as the other team was never quiet in a real game. When the drill finally ends, I stay near the uprights to continue practicing kicks while the rest of the boys continue with what they need to get done before Friday night. By the end, we all join together again to do a 2-minute drill playing to everyone’s strengths, break as a team, and then go out to dinner at our local Buffalo Wild Wings.

CG: How do you train in the off season or do you have an off season?
AB: Considering my travel soccer teams play year-round and I play a high school sport in every season, there truly is no “off season” for me. Maybe a few days here and there, or a weekend every once in a while, but I’m almost always doing something to perfect my sports.

CG: What is your favorite football moment so far?
AB: My favorite moment from the season took place in our very last game, our district final against Fenton High School. The entire game was closer than any I’ve ever seen as we were tied 5 times throughout the game. Our WR, Austin Stredney, rushed down the field and caught a pass to get us a score of 34-35, but Fenton High School had the lead; and while I expected to take a 20 yard extra point for the tie, Austin then got a penalty for excessive celebration, which set me back 15 yards. The celebration of his touchdown was not the best moment, though. Our Coach (Jason Watkins) showed that he had full faith in me by letting me take the now 35 yard extra point. I assumed he would want us to try to go for two points rather than one, but the fact that he trusted my abilities was huge. I thought back to the game one week prior when I missed a 30 yard field goal from the right hash against Bay City Central, and knew that I could not have the same performance in this moment. The snap came and my holder (Brendon Kuch) had a perfect hold to allow me to kick it through the uprights. As the ball soared through the air, in the last second it hit the left upright and flew in. The second I knew it was good, my best friend Michael Bricault sprinted over to me full force to hug me and tell me how proud he was. After everything I had already been through this season, it was an amazing feeling to be able to come in clutch for my team. This was followed by a surplus of cheers and excitement from my teammates, coaches, and entire community. Everyone was so proud and happy of the accomplishment and it was by far the most exciting experience I had yet on the season. Originally, I was frustrated with Austin for getting the penalty, but the fact that I was able to still make the extra point in front of so many people with the help of all those “pressure kicks” made me unbelievably proud to be a Charger.

CG: What do your kicking duties entail?
AB: As a kicker, I had to earn my spot on the team just like any other member. In fact, I even ended the season having some of the top stats on my team and in my league. I feel that my job as a kicker is just as important as any other position on the field, as one point could make or break a game.

CG: What is your field goal range?
AB: In season, the longest field goal I had to take was 35 yards, though most practices I could hit at least 40. I’m not entirely sure what my longest distance or most consecutive distance is, I just know I have to kick the ball through the uprights.

CG: What was your locker room situation like?
AB: When it came to the locker room, my coach always called schools at away games to ensure that they had a separate room for me to personally change in. When we got to a game, all of the boys would change in one locker room, while one of my school’s trainers (Melissa Clufa) would help me get prepared in a separate area. Once everyone was dressed, I was able to join the rest of my team in their locker room for pregame meetings and discussions.

CG: Have you ever had to deal with anything a male football player has never had to deal with?
AB: I definitely do not think any male football player has had to struggle with getting their shoulder pads over their boobs. Considering the uniforms were so tight, it was a struggle, but again I am very thankful for my trainer who was able to help me through that! The boys on my team have also never had to deal with fitting into a predominantly female sport like I had to do with the male group. At first, everyone thought it was strange that I would want to be a part of the team, and may have even questioned my commitment, but I was absolutely in it for the long run.

CG: What do you tell girls or boys who ask you for advice when it comes to playing football?
AB: Pursue your dreams!!! Never let anyone tell you “you can’t do something.” Try something new and completely own it. I’m so very thankful to have been an inspiration to so many people throughout my season and I just want every little boy or girl to know that they can do anything they set their minds to. But don’t play a sport just because someone tells you to, play a sport because you truly have a passion for it and want to make a statement. Have fun while it lasts.

 CG: Do you have a pregame ritual for soccer, football, basketball or all three?
AB: For soccer and basketball, the only real pregame ritual I have is to listen to music. Be loud and get pumped for the game ahead of you. When it came to football though, my team and I participated in an optional team prayer before each game, which I really enjoyed and appreciated.

CG: What kind of music do you listen to pregame?
AB: Every type of music from rap to country. My dad is a DJ so I’ve grown up listening to all kinds of genres and I don’t have a “set playlist” I just listen to whatever happens to be on at the time.

CG: What is your outlook for next season?
AB: Considering this is my senior year, I just look forward to continuing to work hard at whatever new task I partake in.

CG: Do you have a favorite quote?
AB: “The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.” – Unknown

“I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, and to evolve. Not only to please my coach and the fans, but most importantly to feel satisfied with myself.” – Cristiano Ronaldo

CG: Besides sports and singing, what are your hobbies or interests?
AB: I am currently enrolled in DECA, a business based program at my school. I love learning about marketing techniques, and supporting all of my fellow Chargers in everything they do. I’m not sure if my job counts as a “hobby” but I have a lot of fun with that as well.

CG: Alright, let’s have some fun with some rapid fire, shall we?

  1. Favorite cartoon? Wild Kratts
  2. What’s your life motto? Never regret your decisions, simply learn from them and get better
  3. Last song that was stuck in your head? Juju on the Beat
  4. What’s your favorite emoji? The girl that sticks her hand out over her shoulder as if she’s giving every other emoji the ultimate sass.

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Women of Sports: Amanda Cerna

It all started back in 6th grade. Amanda and her sisters transferred to the Villages Middle School in Villages Florida from Harbor View Elementary. Shortly after transferring they were bullied relentlessly. A group of 8th-grade football players came to their rescue, took the bully into the bathroom and threatened him if he didn’t stop. After that, Amanda felt the need to give back. Her first thought was to join the football team. At first, her mom said no, so Amanda joined the team as a manager. Now, 6 years later and a junior at Villages High School, Amanda has found her way from team manager into a Buffalo uniform as one of the JV kickers.

CG: How did you go from team manager to a kicker on your football team?
AC: During my freshman year, I took off from football because I didn’t know if it’d be hard to juggle with my new high school schedule. I came back as a manager for spring of freshman year. Hannah Moody was a senior football kicker during my sophomore year. After she graduated, head football coach Richard Pettus asked me if I’d still like to kick.

In our school, there is a thing called a 2/12 Award. My principal nominated me for it. For the 2/12 Award, there is a meeting with the parents and faculty. During the meeting, they read out the reason why you were nominated for the award. He said, “Amanda’s a good student, she’s always smiling, and she has great aspirations to be a physical therapist.” And as a joke, he added, “If that fails, she could always be a field goal kicker.” My mom was sitting there and was like, “Oh, you staged that!” [Laughs] So then, the football coach and a few teachers were like you should let her try it because Hannah graduated. My mom gave in and was like “Ok, I’ll let you try it for the spring.” And then I just kept going with it. Hannah came back from college and helped me with kicking. I told my mom that I was going to continue kicking.

CG: Once you decided that you wanted to continue, how’d your mom react?
AC: She was iffy with it, more like she didn’t want me to get hurt. But, she’s been to every game. She goes to get me from practice. She’ll go and support. I like that, but sometimes she’ll be like “You work so hard just to get one kick per game.” But that one kick means the world to me. I know some people that don’t get the opportunity. Like if you’re permanently injured or if your parents flat out say “No” and you don’t have that chance to experience it.

CG: Outside of football, what kind of hobbies do you have?
AC: I ride horses. I’m a triplet sister. It’s insane. My sister, Alyssa, is in Color Guard. My other sister, Danielle, plays flute in the marching band. So I’m always around with the band. I play soccer. I played volleyball in 8th grade. I didn’t really like it—not for me, not enough contact. And I’ve been in choir for 8 years.

CG: What do your sisters think of you playing football?
AC: Sometimes they think to face the fact that, my sister is the smallest one on the football team, and also playing linebacker during practice. They are like, “Oh my god, she is going to get crushed!” On the other hand, they support me. They go to my games whenever they can. They are always recording my kicks, screaming their lungs out. I feel like I have a lot of support. Some people are like, “You are a girl, you shouldn’t be playing football.” But my sisters are like, “Ahaha, that’s a good joke, my sister plays football and I find that really awesome!”

Amanda with her sisters, Alyssa and Danielle

CG: Right now, there is another girl on the team. Is that nice having another teammate that you can relate too outside of all of the guys?
AC: Yes, I think it is. We are also in soccer season. Well, football season ended for us last week, but we both play soccer and we both made varsity soccer, so we’re practicing together. We have our first game next week so we have the bus rides together. It’s a lot of bonding time with her, and she’s a freshman though so I’ll be gone next year. It’s really cool, because if I have cramps or whatever, she’s like, “I got you fam.” And she’ll give me Tylenol. The guys, on the other hand, are like, “Eww, that’s gross!” [Laughs]

Pregame with Paige McCall and Amanda

CG: So there was a female kicker when you first started high school, and now you are a junior going to be a senior. And then you’ve got this girl that’s a freshman. Looks like this is becoming a trend. What do you think of that?
AC: We’re trying to do a thing every year. But in the sophomore class, there’s truly no girls who I could ever see being football players, but you never know because of Paige, the freshman kicker, she was a dancer. She’s like all into makeup, she’s like a girly-girl. And Hannah was a girly-girl too, she’d always have makeup on and always do her hair. I’m over here like messy buns for days. [Laughs] There’s a girl in 8th grade at the middle school, I know she’s kicking too, so we have a girl down at the middle school who will be here my senior year. She’ll be moving up. Paige, she’s done kicking sadly. She’s like, “Oh, it’s not really fun.” Because in middle school it’s all fun, but in high school, people can make careers out of football. So the coaches start stressing you, like “Hey you need to make it over the bar.” You can’t just barely make your kick, you need to kick the ball over the roof of the building. More pressure to do better. Paige has bad hips so she really can’t kick that high. I have a torn ACL in my plant foot. If it slides it’ll hurt a bit. Yeah, we’ve started a tradition. When Hannah comes back, she’s always like “Oh my God, you’re like the second girl in the school’s history to be a kicker, Paige is the third. Other Paige at the middle school will be the 4th.” We want to keep it going. We think it’s really cool!

CG: What is your field goal range?
AC: 40 yards and in.

CG: What position in soccer do you play?
AC: Really anything but forward. They’ll play me anywhere. I’ve played goalie, but mainly defense.

Photographer: Steed Multimedia

CG: With just one girl on the team, the locker situation can be difficult sometimes. Is it better with having another female on the team with you?
AC: Well in our school, we have a cheerleading team called the “Golden Girls.” Their locker room is across the hallway from the varsity football locker room. We’ll change in there, but sometimes if we get in our full pads and go outside and no one is out there, we’ll come back in and they’re having a meeting in the weight room. Which is attached to the locker room. Sometimes for game days we’ll have to change on the bus, or even the boys will change in the locker room first and leave and then we’ll change.

CG: What do you tell younger kids when they ask for football advice?
AC: With girls . . . there was this girl that came up to me after my first home game. She was about 6 or 7 and plays Pop-Warner for our school. She said, “I want to play for this school too.” I told her that she could. She was crying she was so happy. She said she always wanted to meet another female football player. I almost cried too, but I was like “No, don’t cry! You’re in a football uniform, don’t cry Amanda!” [Laughs] She was so sweet. I’ve had another girl come up to me saying that her mom wouldn’t let her play football. I told her to do what I did and prove her mom wrong. Trust me, you gotta show your mom that you can do it. You gotta be Super Woman. You gotta be Wonder Woman. Then she was really happy. I encourage them to play football. I’m not going to be like, “It was hard for me and I don’t want you to go through that so don’t do it.” I’m going to tell them “Oh yeah!Yes, you can. You can do it! Don’t let anyone say you can’t! Prove them wrong! Just keep going with it. Do what you love!”

CG: Who are your role models?
AC: My parents. They both work very hard for what we have and I am very grateful for that. My dad started working right away and never had the time to go to college. He recently enrolled in college online in pursuit of a degree. He works 5/6 days a week from 7am-6pm and then comes home and is burnt out because Florida is hot. He then has to stay up and do his homework until 1 am. My mom works 2 days a week at the Villages Hospital, takes care of our horses, and makes sure all three of us get to wherever whenever. For example, if my sisters have a band competition and need to be picked up at 2 am from the school, she’ll go and get them.

Coach Pettus, the head football coach, is definitely a role model. The football coaches they are all my role models. Teachers are my role models because the kids in my school are insane. And I always wonder how do they put up with it? They come to school every day with a smile on their face and are like “Good morning!” and I’m over here like, “I don’t know how you do it!” I would have been driven insane by those kids. It’s good to see people who are grateful for what they have. And It’s sad to see the kids nowadays that are like, “Oh my parents are rich, I’m just going to live off of their money.” That’s upsetting because you never know what will happen to your parents, and I’m just grateful for mine.

CG: What is your favorite football moment so far?
AC: That is a good question, I have so many! My favorite was when I made my first PAT. It was my first kick ever and it was in a big scrimmage in our school for spring football. It’s called the Green and Gold game. We are split up into teams so then our QB, he’s a senior, Landon Noe, he was holding for me. I was freaking out. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to miss it. I’m going to get embarrassed. I’m going to hang up my helmet, jersey and say I’m not doing it anymore.” But then, he held my hand and told me, “You got this! Relax.” When I kicked, the ball went really high over the upright and straight down the middle. It was so beautiful. Over the speakers I heard my name announced, “And Amanda Cerna completes the PAT!” and I was like, “Oh my gosh, my heart!” and then all of the guys were screaming and cheering on the sideline.

Amanda wearing the Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh Steelers Strength and Conditioning Coach Garrett Giemont

CG: Do you have a pregame ritual or any superstitions?
AC: Usually I pray before I go out. We eat a pre-game meal together. We pray before that. We pray for no injuries. We never pray for a win because even though we may not win, we still have a chance to play. Some kids are born paralyzed and will never be able to play.

I bring my speaker on game days and our lockers are metal so if you face it in it echoes. Paige and I dance in the locker room. The Golden Girls dance with us and we have a lot of fun. [Laughs] We do that and then right before I kick, I do the sign of the cross.

CG: Is football an outlet to relieve stress?
AC: Yes, definitely. When I kick that ball, it’s like I hit this person, they are that football. I kick it. [Laughs] And that’s another person, I’m going to line it up and I’m going to kick it. I’m done, I’m good. Prevents me from going insane.

CG: What do you plan to do after high school. Academically, athletically. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
AC: I want to go University of Central Florida for Physical Therapy or Athletic Training. I don’t know if I’ll play college soccer, I want to play.

Photographer: Steed Multimedia

CG: Do you have a favorite quote?
AC: Yes, it’s from Cristiano Ronaldo. “Your love makes me strong, but your hate makes me unstoppable.” For instance, in soccer, some girls are like, “Oh she’s been on varsity soccer for 2 years and oh I’m a newbie.” Some freshman will be like, “Even though she’s on varsity, I’m going to take her position.” And they’ll try to slide tackle and do everything to get me out. So, then I’ll train even harder. I’ll go outside and run even longer. I’ll just keep training, keep training, keep training and I’ll be like I gotta run myself down to the floor and then I’ll be satisfied when I’m crawling.Because that in my opinion, that’s how I see Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s worked hard like where he came from in Portugal. He didn’t come from a rich family; he came from a small poor family. Soccer was his life and he worked so hard and now he’s playing for (in my opinion) the best soccer team ever Real Madrid in Spain. And he’s worked so hard and now he’s a multi-billionaire, in my opinion, best soccer player ever. I see how hard he has worked. And I know that there are players there that absolutely hate him, but yeah you just gotta be persistent. It makes me feel strong. Some kids will be like, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” And then some people will be like, “Oh yes you can!” You have your supporters and you have your haters. You have to prove your haters wrong. That’s how I see it.

CG: And now for some fun! A quick round of Rapid Fire:

  1. If you could go to brunch or breakfast with 4 people, anyone, who would they be? 1) Cristiano Ronaldo; 2) female NFL Coach Dr. Jen Welter; 3) you; and 4) I think Coach Coughlin for the Giants, he just retired.
  2. 3 favorite movies of all time? Titanic, When the Game Stands Tall, and Twilight I guess . . . I’m everywhere [Laughs]
  3. If you had to pick one type of food to eat from now until forever, what would it be? Pizza!
  4. Favorite thing to do when you have free time? Juggle a soccer ball.

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The Life and Career of Joanna “Champion”

Joanna Jędrzejczyk, otherwise known as Joanna “Champion” was born Olsztyn, Poland on August 18, 1987.

Joanna is one of, if not the best female fighter on the planet. She started her fighting career as a teenager when she took up Muay Thai to get in shape. Jędrzejczyk competed in Muay Thai and Kickboxing for ten years, compiling 70 wins in Muay Thai, 27 professional kickboxing wins and 37 amateur kickboxing wins. She won multiple Muay Thai and Kickboxing Championships.


Jędrzejczyk started her MMA career in 2012 with a decision victory against Sylwia Juskiewicz. She spent the next two years bouncing around small promotions, compiling a 6-0 record. She was signed by the UFC and made her debut in 2014 against Juliana Lima, scoring a decision victory. Later that year, in the toughest test of her career, she defeated her rival Claudia Gadelha by split decision.

Joanna had earned a shot at the newly minted champion, Carla Esparza. She shut down Esparza’s wrestling and showed her skill on the feet. Esparza was no match for Joanna, and that night Joanna “Champion” was born. Since then she has beaten Jessica Penne, Valerie Letourneau, and Claudia Gadelha again. She has starred on The Ultimate Fighter and she is considered by many to be the best female fighter in the world. Currently, she is the only female fighter in the pound-for-pound rankings (ranked ninth). Joanna is a dominant champion whose reign has only just begun.


Off the Tee: U.S. Women’s Open

One look at the top players in women’s golf tells an obvious story. It’s an even more international mix than what’s seen from their male counterparts.USWomensLogo

New Zealand, Canada, Korea, the United States, Thailand, China, Australia, Sweden, Norway, England, Taipei, and Japan are all represented within the top 30 spots in the world rankings.

Those top players from literally all around the world will converge in Cordevalle, Calif., this week for the U.S. Women’s Open, arguably the biggest event on the schedule.

Picking a favorite is tough, given the number of quality players atop the game. Or, perhaps it isn’t, as a look back to the most recent LPGA major is a good place to start, with a 19-year-old and an 18-year-old making a huge impact at their young ages.

Lydia Ko won’t turn 20 until next April but already has 18 wins in professional tournaments, the first coming when she was a 15-year-old amateur. She’s a two-time major winner and nearly got a third in May.

But at the Women’s PGA Championship, Ko found herself on the wrong end of a playoff defeat to Canadian Brooke Henderson, five months younger than Ko but already establishing herself in a big way at just age 18.

Henderson won again last week in Portland for the third LPGA win of her young career. She is No. 2 and Ko No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings for women’s golf.lydia-ko-brooke-henderson-1280x850

“Getting the major championship win just a couple weeks ago in Washington and knowing that I can win a major championship was definitely a huge momentum changer and confidence boost,” Henderson said after her win in Portland.

“And then coming off a win here, I think it’s really is going to give me a lot of confidence. I know the U.S. Open, it takes a lot of skill, patience, and I’m really excited for it.”

Inbee Park, No. 3 in the world rankings, is one of the many strong Asian players on the tour. Fellow Korean In Gee Chun, ranked 6th, won the U.S. Women’s Open last season.

No. 7 Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand was third at the PGA, one shot behind Ko and Henderson. That result followed an amazing month of May in which Jutanugarn won all three events the LPGA conducted.

The top Americans on the list are Lexi Thompson (4th) and Stacy Lewis (8th). Lewis, a University of Arkansas product, finished second to Henderson last week in Portland and is a two-time major winner. While she’s still considered one of the top American threats, she’s actually gone two years without a victory on the LPGA Tour.

With the PGA Tour off this week due to the deadly flooding in West Virginia forcing cancellation of the Greenbrier Classic, this is a perfect week for golf fans to focus on the women’s version of the sport and a tour that is loaded with quality and good competition.



Lydia Ko – It’s hard to go against No. 1, and we can’t do it here, either. Ko’s career has already been amazing at this young age, but this would be her biggest victory so far if she can do it.

AmyYangAmy Yang – She’s been close numerous times in the U.S. Open, including a runner-up finish last year. Yang is 9th in the world rankings and has four top-three finishes this season.

So-Yeon Ryu – Like her countrywoman Yang, the Korean has been steady this season with six top-10s. And experience helps, and Ryu’s first professional win in America came at this event, the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open.

Gerina Piller – Known by some as a former contestant on the Golf Channel reality show “The Big Break,” Piller has had her best professional season with six top-10 finishes, including a second in Texas.

Game 7 & 8 | Summer is Coming

May 21, 2016 – Chicago Eagles vs Bloomington Edge (Round 3)
Three weeks ago, we traveled to Bloomington, IL to face the Edge. The last time these two teams played each other was in Chicago with a close score, Eagles winning 40-37. In order to make playoffs, we had to win this game!

Tensions were high before the game and a small fight broke out shortly after we arrived at US Cellular Coliseum between one of my teammates and an Edge player. No one was hurt, but everyone was ready to knock heads in the game.

We ended up losing 55-33. As a whole, we played terribly. It was like we didn’t show up to play. Everyone was out of sync, including me. I had a dreadful kicking game.

May 24, 2016 – Practice 
Tuesday night at practice I was informed that Coach Scott (special teams coach) and I would be competing for the starting roster spot for Saturday’s game. Due to my poor performance over the weekend and with drop-kicks being worth 2 points in the CIF, Coach Scott was chomping at the bit to get his chance to dress for the game. Only in Chicago do you get a girl kicker and a 62-year old drop-kicker competing for a roster spot on a professional indoor football team.

Practice was weird. I had to work with and compete against my coach. Usually, I would listen to his advice, but this practice I was leery of him. Our team practiced hard and looked good. I had a good practice on Tuesday, building my confidence back up from the awful game before. Thursday night’s practice would be the deciding factor for our last game of the season on whether I would get an opportunity to redeem myself.

May 26, 2016 – The Last Practice
I went to practice with a positive mindset ready to kick. There was no way I was going to lose the starting spot after working so hard to get it. Sure enough, Coach Scott was suited up in his practice gear ready to compete. We both practiced well. I was focused and determined to keep my starting position.

Midnight, roster announced… I made the roster, but so did Coach Scott. In the CIF, teams are allowed to roster 24 players and trim it to 22 a couple of hours before game time if any last minute adjustments are needed. My roster spot was still not locked in for Saturday’s game.

May 28, 2016 – Game Day
I arrived at the UIC Pavilion around 3 pm. Something was different about our home turf. The end zones read “Bloomington Edge” and there were 4 large fans in the center of the field drying a freshly painted Eagle’s logo. Something was missing, but thankfully the turf was ready to go by the time we started warming up.

Coach Scott and I both dressed for warm-ups. I was ready and amped to kick. Some of my soccer girls that I coach was coming to the game and I did not want them to see me on the bench.

Special Teams Coach Scott Duvall and me pre-game

Coach Hay came over to me when I was warming up. “We’re going to go with you for the game.” I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders and I was even more ready to kick in this game.

Before kickoff, Ashlynn Danil sang her first performance and rocked the National Anthem! Her rendition was absolutely beautiful! Eagles and Beef players ran over to her to give her high-fives as soon as she finished the last note.

Chicago, IL, USA, May 28, 2016: Champions Indoor Football (CIF) action between the Omaha Beef and the Chicago Eagles at the UIC Pavilion. Photographer: Daniel Bartel

Singer Ashlynn Danil performs the National Anthem (Photographer: Daniel Bartel)

The first big hit of the game into the dasher pads sent the walls crashing over. Thankfully no one was hurt. Both teams and the officials teamed up to stand the wall back up. Coach Scott started using wooden boards and metal rails to prop the wall up while someone found a rope to stabilize it.

Chicago, IL, USA, May 28, 2016: Champions Indoor Football (CIF) action between the Omaha Beef and the Chicago Eagles at the UIC Pavilion. Photographer: Daniel Bartel

Boards post big hit ( Photographer: Daniel Bartel)

After getting the wall back up we started to play again, both teams being cautious of hitting the boards too hard. The UIC staff then came by and started removing the rails. Another big hit tipped the wall over again, this time towards the stands.

Wooden boards and metal rails supporting the boards

I thought for sure the referees were going to call the game, but they gave us one more chance. This time fans even helped get the wall back up. Some adjustments were made and it seemed pretty stable. With a slight delay, the game was back on!

We were able to finish the game with walls intact. My teammates balled out and I was able to bounce back from the game before making all of my extra points.

Chicago, IL, USA, May 28, 2016: Champions Indoor Football (CIF) action between the Omaha Beef and the Chicago Eagles at the UIC Pavilion. Photographer: Daniel Bartel

Receiver Stacey Howard holds the PAT which is good by Julie Harshbarger! (Photographer: Daniel Bartel)

We fell short with the final score Beef 42 Eagles 29. Although the Eagles ended the season 3-9, they were a first-year team in a very competitive league. They also played a positive role within the Chicago community doing volunteer work, visiting with elderly, and speaking to children in surrounding schools. From here, the only way is up, and I’m excited for the Eagles to soar next season!

Chicago, IL, USA, May 28, 2016: Champions Indoor Football (CIF) action between the Omaha Beef and the Chicago Eagles at the UIC Pavilion. Photographer: Daniel Bartel

Quarterback Anthony Iannotti dives into the end zone for an Eagle’s touchdown (Photographer: Daniel Bartel)

Next week I will be changing focus to the outdoor game, covering the Rockton Rush of the Mid-States Football League (MSFL) as they kick off their season off Saturday, June 11, 2016!

Follow me on Instagram @julieharsh or Twitter @julieharsh99.

Photos by Daniel Bartel Photography


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