Clubs Feature: Women's Football Team

Edited By: Joy Jiang


The players of the University of Toronto Women’s Football club work hard and play harder. Given the unbalanced ratio of men’s football teams to women’s, the UofT team plays a role even greater than their plays on the field. Though they were previously known as the Powderpuff team, they have recently changed to their current name in order to remind that there’s no need for differentiation on the sport’s name based on gender.

I sent some questions to the team which were answered by the following members:

Julie Van plays quarterback and is in her 4th year of PhD. She’s been on the team since 2010.

Debbie Lee is a receiver, recently graduated from the Concurrent Teacher Education Program/Physical Health Education undergraduate program in June 2017, and has been on the team since 2013.

Nicole Pinto plays on the defensive line. She will be entering her second year of her Master of Forest Conservation. She was a rookie on the team last year.

How often are practices and matches held?

Julie: We will be holding introductory "tryout" practices, which are run by the players, in late September through October. (We will be finalizing the dates by the end of this week. I will let you know on Friday.) Once the coaches join us, we will be practicing once a week. Day and time will be determined based on coach/player availability and will be set in October.

What makes Powderpuff different as a sport/activity?

Debbie: We're women playing a male dominated sport. As a result, every day as teammates we empower each other to grow not only as football players but also as women breaking gender roles.

With what other teams does UofT compete? Do you have a specific rival?

Julie: We play in three tournaments during the season: one at UofT, one at McMaster University, and the last one at Laurier. College and university programs from all over Ontario play such as Algoma, Ottawa, Queens. York U used to be a big rival given that both schools are located in Toronto. Unfortunately, York U's program was discontinued in the last few years. I guess lately it would be McMaster since we've faced them a few times in the elimination games.

Would you say the sport is growing or shrinking in participants? What do you think is causing it?

Debbie: The sport is growing because women's football is now a competitive sport in elementary and high schools. However, it's not growing as fast as it can because of the aforementioned gender barriers.

What drew you to Powderpuff? What keeps you playing?

Julie: I joined when the team first started in 2010. At the time, it was just an intramural team at St Mikes that turned into an extramural team. What made me stay were the people. I was and have been surrounded by amazing coaches and players. For me, it's has always been a no-brainer to come back. It's a good study break, a chance to socially interact with other students, and a good workout -- all combined into one activity. To anyone who might be a little bit interested, I would definitely recommend that you give it a shot.

Nicole: I was drawn to Powderpuff after hearing all the great stories of the previous tournaments from a player on the team. It just sounded like so much fun and as an international student who had just moved here, I was looking for ways to make new friends. While I enjoy playing the sport, the relationships I've built with some of the women on this team keeps me playing and looking forward to the next season.

Can you describe some of the emotions, experiences, and wisdom that came from successfully defending your championship title?

Debbie: Wisdom - on defending the title, you win it once and you expect to win it again, you have that expectation. But you also know that other teams are not only training to take the championship, they're training to beat you. With that mindset you have to push yourself to work harder knowing someone out there is pushing harder to take it away from you.

What kind of social effect do you think the Powderpuff team is having?

Debbie: Women's football is slowly gaining traction in the university sphere not only at UofT. We're gaining recognition that women can play football mainly through social media - it has been an integral part in putting our vision, that women can play football, out there by linking with other UofT varsity teams, women's football teams from other universities and other countries.

Nicole: Powderpuff really shows the strength and power of women. When people watch our games, they can see how much physicality, strategy and drive go into playing the game. We leave it all on the field and when people come out to the games and see it, I think they really respect that kind of passion and work.

Julie: To add on what Debbie and Nicole said, it's great to see more women getting involved at the professional level. Jen Welter and Kathryn Smith are the NFL's first female coaches, with the latter being the first female full-time coach on the Buffalo Bills. Maybe our team will be the stepping stone. Several of our players have taken on coaching roles for the Toronto Jr Argos.

If you had to use three words and a special character to summarize Powderpuff, what would they be?

Julie: Football. Friends. Family. 

What's the biggest thing you've personally gained from Powderpuff?

Julie: Friendship. I can say that I've met my best friends from university through this program. Having been part of the program since its inaugural season in 2010, it's very heartwarming to see that these friendships have lasted even after graduation.

Nicole: Just being around so many strong and incredible ladies has been a fulfilling experience.

How can interested readers find out more?

Julie: Since school is back in session, we will be providing lots of updates on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

Instagram: @uoftflagfootball


Images Courtesy of Naomi Litwack and UofT's Women's Football Team