Snow was still on the field when the New York Sharks, a women’s professional football team, came to Red Hook last Saturday for its first practice to kick off its 15th season.
To be clear, this isn’t touch football, or flag football — and it is definitely not the Lingerie Bowl. These formidable females play serious, hard-hitting, tackle football in the Independent Women’s Football League, an association of more than 100 women’s professional football teams across the United States and Canada.
In fact, the Sharks have the honor of being the first women’s football team to be featured in the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Sharks head coach Richard Harrigan ran the players through their drills at the Red Hook Recreational Center to get them ready for their first game of the season when they face off against the Connecticut Wreckers on April 19.
Team owner Andra Douglas likes their chances this season.
“The 2014 Sharks will field a strong group of athletes. It’s like no other sport and the Sharks as a team has always had a special magic about them. Maybe it’s because we are New Yorkers, or maybe it’s because we all fight so hard to be able to play,” said Douglas, who played quarterback for the team from 1999–2005.
Most rookies have background in team sports, but few played tackle football before trying out for the Sharks.
“So far, I have not experienced tackling or being tackled — that will come in the next few weeks of practice,” said Alana Casner, who has played flag football, soccer, and basketball. “It was a decision on the fly to play for the Sharks and be a part of a team that has such great camaraderie.”
For Gina Pettigano, on the other hand, the rough-and-tumble is a satisfying return to her sport of choice.
“I played tackle football from the ages of 9 to 14 for my town team with the boys,” said Pettigano. “I continued in sports with basketball, volleyball, track and javelin. Now I get to become a part of a football team again, and play the sport that is number one in my heart.”
Casner and Pettigano join a team with a proud tradition and a strong line-up led by quarterback Karen “Mulli” Mulligan, a physical education teacher at Brooklyn’s PS 65 in Cypress Hills.
Mulligan was one of several Sharks players chosen for Team USA in the first International Women’s Tackle Football Tournament in 2011, coming home with the gold — and without allowing any opponents to score.
Most of the players are from the city and the surrounding area, but the Sharks attract talent from across the country.
Linebacker Amy Deal left the San Diego Surge in 2012 and moved to Brooklyn to join the Sharks, and then last year San Diego teammates Regina Jaso and Duece Reyes followed her.
All Sharks home games are played at Aviator Sports Complex at Floyd Bennett Field. There are four home games in the regular season schedule, and in the four away games, the Sharks will face off against teams in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.