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Tackling a new game for a good cause

UC Bearcats' program teaches women about passing the pigskin

by Amanda Chalifoux

When asked to cover the UC Women's Football 101 Clinic in June, I thought it would be relatively easy. The sport has always been part of my life -- my father coached football, my brother played and my husband writes about it. I should be an expert, right?

After the event, however, I could see that I still had a few things to learn. And who better to learn from than the 2009 Big East Champs? It seems this game, with its formations and complicated equipment, is far more complex than I ever thought.

It all started innocently enough for the 180 women who attended. After dinner and cocktails (the latter a running theme of the evening), Bearcats football Coach Brian Kelly's wife, Paqui, spoke briefly about her experiences as a two-time breast cancer survivor and about the work of UC's Barrett Cancer Center. In its fourth year, the clinic is presented by Paqui and Jeni Thomas, wife of director of athletics Mike Thomas, and raised $8,000 for the cancer center this year.

"I'm pleased that we were able to make a record donation again this year to a cause that is dear to me and my family," said head coach Brian Kelly. "Believing that each one of us can make a difference in the lives of others is important."

From there, things kicked up a notch. We were split into teams and moved from station to station manned by UC coaches. First, my team, "Team Big East," learned the correct way to throw.

No problem, I thought. But the spiral didn't come as easy to me now as when I was 12. Probably because I hadn't touched a football since I was, well, 12.

Next, photographer Ashley Kempher and I had our photo taken in authentic Bearcat jerseys. Then it was time to kick and punt.

During the walk to that station, I could see that the rainstorms that moved the event indoors had not dampened the enthusiasm of these pigskin ladies. As our team passed another in the hallway, it was high fives and cheers all around.

Finished with kicking (poorly, at least on my end), it was on to the Bearcats' locker room, where UC coaches showed participants the different types of equipment worn by players: shoulder pads, shoes, jerseys and helmets. I also got to meet the laundry guys, two undergraduate students who are responsible for removing the hard-earned sweat and grass stains from all the game gear. Might not sound like a fun job, but don't worry -- there are scholarships involved.

The ladies, still raucous, moved to classrooms where the team reviews game film to learn the inner-workings of offense, defense and special teams. Soon, we found ourselves back in Lindner auditorium, where a NCAA referee explained what his flags and signals meant, and Coach Kelly thanked the mothers, wives and girlfriends who supported the coaches and players in the football program. "We couldn't do it without you," he said.

Finally, we got to the part I'd been hearing about all night. UC's Athletics Department describes the concluding ritual as a "fashion show to show off the team's equipment." For some of the players, however, the fashion show, definitely a favorite among the ladies, was a bit more of an opportunity to display their catwalk prowess.

With that, the evening came to a close, and we walked away with complimentary gift packs that included UC football T-shirts and stadium blankets. It was an educational event for a great cause, and we all had a good time. We were also relieved to finally know what our husbands, brothers and dads had meant when they were yelling "cover two" at the TV all those years.

For information on next year's Football 101 Clinic, contact the UC football office at 513-556-5986. Above: Former Bearcat quarterback Dustin Grutza, Bus '08, shows a participant at UC's Women's Football 101 Clinic the proper way to "palm" and throw a football.

Read more about Football 101
Watch video recap of the 2009 event

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