By Scott Prater
Shawn Bailey was an engineering student at the University of Southern California when she discovered her passion for football.
She loved everything about the sport; its roughness, speed and organized plays made it the ultimate activity, in her mind.
“I can remember telling people, even back then [mid 1990s], that I wish women could play football,” she said. “I’d tell them everything I liked about it and, if given the chance, how well I could play it.”
For more than 15 years, Bailey’s only outlet for the game came from being a USC fan. She could cheer, root and support the team, but that was all.
“I’m fairly athletic,” the Missile Defense Agency systems engineer said. “I’ve played softball, soccer and women’s lacrosse at the club level. I’ve also played gaelic football, which is a lot like rugby, but American football has never really been accessible to me.”
Then one day last autumn, Bailey attended a banquet for her son’s 4th grade flag football team when someone came up with an idea to hold a friendly competition between the players and their moms.
“I played in that game and had so much fun that I went right home and did an online search for women’s football league,” she said.
As always, her search ended in disappointment. That same night, however, she found a Facebook page for a local women’s football team called the Pikes Peak Storm. A week later, she tried out for the team.
“I was surprised when they told me I’d made it,” she said. “Yeah, I knew I was athletic, but I’m 38. Most of those players are in their early 20s. As it turns out, the coaches were looking for players with heart, and I’ve got plenty of that.”
The team played for an indoor league, where players wore hockey helmets and skimpy pads, but Bailey was just happy to compete. She started out playing linebacker on defense and center on offense. Possessing a strong leg, she also earned the kicking job.
Things moved quickly for Bailey in the women’s football world.
A few weeks after starting her first practice, her coach, Lester Robinson, announced he was moving the team out of its current league, the Foxy Football League, and enrolling it in a stronger, more reliable league, the Independent Women’s Football League. The team’s players agreed to change their name from Pikes Peak Storm to Colorado Sting and embarked on a new season.
Beginning this spring, they played by NCAA rules, outdoors and in full pads on a regulation field.
Bailey and her teammates struggled through four regular season games, during which bigger, more experienced teams trampled them. Practicing four days a week while traveling hundreds of miles for away games required a huge time commitment and gave little reward, but Bailey said she couldn’t get enough.
“It’s semi-pro football,” she said. “We don’t get paid. We have maybe 50 people at our home games and we went 0-4 in the regular season — but it’s been a blast. We’ve learned so much. We were much more competitive in our final two games.”
League administrators took notice as well and were so impressed by the Sting’s performance and sportsmanship that they invited the team to play in the Tier III championship game later this month.
Tech. Sgt. Oscar Loveless, 50th Civil Engineer Squadron NCO in charge of utilities, coaches offense for the Sting and said all those years Bailey pined to play football didn’t go to waste.
“She may be only 5-foot-5, but she’s one of those players who picks up instruction right away,” he said. “She has a familiarity for the game and the position she plays. She has to do a lot of reading and reacting to play linebacker and that carries over to the offensive side of the ball because she knows what we’re trying to do. That’s a big advantage for a player and we’re a better team with her on the field.”
Bailey believes playing football has enriched her life in other ways as well.
“I’m an engineer and work predominately with men,” she said. “Who knew I had to play football to gain some female friends. I think they look at me as kind of a mother figure, but that’s alright with me. It makes me happy knowing that I can keep up with them.”
Bailey and the Sting will travel to Round Rock, Texas July 28 for the IWFL Tier III championship game and hope to secure a bus for the trip following fundraising events.
Teams in the Tier I and T II divisions will also play title games that weekend, following their playoff tournaments.
For more information about the Sting, how to support or join the team visit www.coloradostingfootball.com or search for Colorado Sting on Facebook. Results of the championship game will also be posted on the team’s website.