by Ben Shapiro
Plate by plate Nichole Doyle recently helped the hungry Metairie, La, community members at the Bucktown Food Festival. Proudly wearing her white New Orleans Krewe polo, Doyle accepted each customer with a smile and sent him or her off with a nice farewell. Wearing their usual mixture of black and gold and purple and gold for the hometown favorites, the people gathered at St. Louis King of France Elementary School looked on Doyle and her staff with accepting yet confused eyes. They didn’t know what or who the New Orleans Krewe were, but by the time the spring rolls around, Doyle is hoping to change that.
The Krewe is New Orleans newest all-female tackle football team. A resemblance of the current structure of women’s football first came about in the mid 1960’s. While popularity has not significantly increased, participation has. There are now four different women’s tackle football leagues in the United States.
“A lot of people when you say women’s football, they think about lingerie football. It’s real football, and it’s a blast,” said Tank Morales, defensive end for the New Orleans Krewe.
In the upcoming spring season the Krewe will be competing in the Independent Women’s Football League. The longest tenured women’s tackle football league, the IWFL has been providing women with the ability to play football since 2000 and currently has 32 teams and approximately 1,600 football players participating in the league. The teams are spread out throughout the United States and even one is located in Canada, with seven divisions representing different regions of the country.
But because of lack of corporate sponsorship, unlike the NFL, these women are on their own. Despite being in the lower tier of salary out of the four major sports, NFL players still make a hefty salary that usually adds up to millions of dollars. Women playing in different tackle football leagues around the country will not be making that much money, in fact, they will be paying in order to play the sport they love. Reaching a larger audience would help these women earn compensation for their play. Louisiana resident Ted Fox believes the market is there for women’s football, but making people aware of these teams’ presence is another story.
“My family will let me watch baseball at home, but when football comes on, I don’t have a choice,” said Fox, who grew up in Huntington, N.Y. “My wife asked me if the Krewe could help out at our tent, but before then I had never heard of them.”
More people will need to be aware of the Krewe if they plan on getting through their first season. Their league fees are steep, but their travel costs are exponentially larger.
“It’s $1,900 to join this league,” said Doyle, a resident of Lakewood South, New Orleans. “Our travel budget is the highest, it’s about $20,000 to 25,000.”
The Krewe will play in the South West division, where they will play all their road games in Texas. Without a local team in their division, the Krewe will be forced to pay high travel costs throughout the season. Players will pay $410 to join the team, which will help offset some of the travel costs, but Doyle is planning on sponsorships to help finance the rest of the fees.
“I’m looking at sponsorships, however we can help people promote, in return for them helping us financially,” said Doyle. “Sponsorships are about relationships, and I don’t want to visit a thousand little businesses and get $200 here. I want real relationships that can carry me for five years plus.”
Someone who understands the financial struggles women’s tackle teams go through is Tianne “Tank” Morales. A former teammate of Doyle on the New Orleans Mojo, Morales, 32, has bounced around the different women’s tackle football teams and leagues for over a decade. Due to personnel and financial reasons, many of the teams she has played on have folded, but Morales is confident the Krewe will not follow the same fate.
“That’s why when Nichole and them went through it, they were very adamant about making sure they had everything set up financially to actually survive that initial season, said Morales, a New Orleans native. “If you’re a brand-new team, it’s the hardest thing to do is survive your first season. Because you have to worry about finances, getting the word out so that you can get actual people to come out for tryouts. There a lot of people who still don’t know that women tackle football exists.”
Muscular in stature but soft spoken, Morales, who plays defensive end, looks forward to letting her physicality do the talking on the football field. Although, in order for Morales to be able to do her thing on the field, she will need to speak up around town. With tryouts on October 25th, the Krewe is still actively recruiting players to make up the roster. Doyle expects to have enough players at tryouts to field a team, but she is relying on the women who have experience in the tackle football leagues to spread the word. Morales understands the importance of recruitment, and that is why she has been pro active around the community and social media leading up to the tryout.
“I have been posting a lot on Facebook,” said Morales, a driver for FedEx. “Also been talking to different gyms. Because you really want to recruit, they don’t necessarily have to be prior football players, but you want to recruit women athletes, give them something new to do, and let them know that we are taking a step up.”
Morales’ enthusiasm towards the recruitment of players is second only to her anticipation for the upcoming season. Approaching her 14th year playing football, Morales exudes excitement as if it were her first. She was counting down the days until the team’s first tryout that is less than 2 weeks away.
“I’ve played sports all my life,” said Morales. “I can honestly say I have never, ever, ever, ever, loved a sport, as much as I love playing women’s tackle. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s a big time stress reliever. It’s something you live for.”
In charge of coaching Morales and her teammates will be Uptown, New Orleans native, Keith LaCour. Doyle recently hired LaCour who has over 20 years of coaching experience. LaCour, married with five children, has coached a variety of sports over the years including men’s and women’s athletics. He has spent the last six years concentrating on football, and most recently was a volunteer assistant football coach at Crescent City Christian Academy in Metairie, Louisiana. LaCour is ready to take on a head coaching position, especially for a Krewe team that will potentially roster many inexperienced players.
“The way it was brought to me is that it’s going to be a lot of teaching involved,” said LaCour, 45, who works during the day as a clerk. “Some of the girls who have a lot of experience, some of them will be brand new, and need fundamentally to be taught, and I’m a real stickler for fundamentals.”
Getting into x’s and o’s LaCour expressed how he is a firm believer that a successful team needs a strong defense. If the other team can’t score you win games explained LaCour, who has painfully watched his hometown Saints struggle on the defensive end this season. In terms of how he would like to run his offense, that depends on the talent the Krewe acquires, although he acknowledged traditionally the IWFL consists of running based teams. While LaCour looks forward to teaching the game he loves and proudly representing the community that has raised him and his five children, make no mistake about it, anything but a championship in the Krewe’s first season will be considered a disappointment.
“I’m hoping to go all the way,” said LaCour. “I have never done anything in my life that I didn’t plan on winning.”
Helping LaCour pick his team will be general manager Kristy Dunham,43, a veteran of women’s tackle football, who even has experience playing with men. In 1988, Dunham became the first woman to play in a high school football game in Louisiana when she was the place kicker for Crescent City Baptist High School. Dunham continued on as a place kicker for several different women’s teams, including kicking for the Houston Energy in 2001. Dunham expects her experience in women’s football as a player will aid her in fulfilling her responsibilities as a general manager and as the second hand woman to Doyle.
“Any question Nichole has I can answer,” said Dunham, a resident of Metairie, La. “I would consider myself a liaison between the players and Nichole.”
The pair met each other when Doyle came to the sports retailer that Dunham works at, Grundmann’s Athletic Company. Dunham, who helps contract equipment out to high school and private teams, helped Doyle who at the time was looking for equipment for the New Orleans Mojo. After that initial encounter they maintained a relationship over the years, and when Doyle decided to start her own team, Dunham was the first person she called.
Not only do Doyle and Dunham share a passion for the game, but they both feel strongly about the benefits of organized athletics. While playing football is the upfront objective of the New Orleans Krewe, creating a stability system for young women is the broader mission of the organization. Doyle and Dunham intend on creating a family like culture, where players will feel comfortable expressing themselves and bringing off the field issues to the attention of teammates and coaches. After all, as Dunham explained, football can only last so long, making sure these athletes live meaningful lives is what is really important.
“The end result is building champions for life,” said Dunham. “The games will come and go, the most important thing is how you are as a person.”