Pro football

Illiana Raven women football players do it for love of game

2013-12-15T23:00:00Z 2013-12-16T16:42:07Z Illiana Raven women football players do it for love of gameJohn Burbridge, (219) 933-3371

LYNWOOD | Illiana Ravens head coach Bob Crowder told Erin Buteau that she had to have a nickname.

"I have a nickname, but I don't know you well enough to give it out," Buteau said during the Women's Football Alliance team's tryouts Saturday at Ho-Chunk Sports and Expo Center.

A good nickname for Mary Ellen Six, 29, of Oak Park, would be "Slash" — though it has been already taken by former NFL player Kordell Stewart, who played quarterback/receiver/running back, kind of like Six.

"I pretty much do it all, even punt and kick," said Six, who has played women's tackle football for four seasons, most recently with the Wisconsin Dragons.

"I went on Craigslist to see if there were any women's soccer teams in need of players, and I saw an ad for women's tackle football," Six said. "I said 'awesome' and tried out for the team."

The turnout for the first-year team's second tryout (there was an earlier session in November) was modest due to the major snowfall during the preceding night and morning.

"We had some players who were coming in from as far as LaPorte County, but out there (80/94 expressway) was really messed up," Ravens general manager Konesha Rhea said. "We still attracted some talented players here."

Among those trying out was Candace Griffin, a defensive back who played for the 2012 WFA undefeated champions, the Chicago Force.

"I mainly enjoy the company of women like me who love to play football," said Griffin, 31, of Chicago. "The competition is great, too, and so is winning a championship.

"That's what I want to help start here ... to build another champion."

Buteau, 34, of Romeoville, is another experienced defensive back who played for the Force. Not only is she a hard-nosed player, she's a hard-nosed fan.

The tech teacher, who has Bears season tickets, braved the bitterly cold Monday Night Football win over the Dallas Cowboys.

"I had two pairs of long underwear ... I was wearing a ski mask ... it was great," Buteau said. "Playing in weather like that is also great. I remember the feeling of standing out on the field during the national anthem in the middle of a driving sleet. Then during the game it turned to snow and hail."

The Ravens' offensive line coach is "Snoopy" Shuster of Oak Park. She was a former defensive end who made the league's "Pro Bowl" while playing for the Wisconsin Dragons.

When Shuster tells you why she retired from playing, you get the impression women's tackle football is a far cry from "powder puff."

"I suffer from post-concussion syndrome," Shuster said. "During the season I made the Pro Bowl, I was getting knocked out about every game.

"I just had a nose for the ball, and I was going to fly to it no matter what."

Shuster said that she had to learn math again, regain mastery of her speech, and take to crossword puzzles to re-sharpen her mind and vocabulary.

"Concussion awareness is starting to trickle down to women's football," Shuster said. "The worst thing you can say in just about any sport is 'just let them play' after someone has taken a major hit. That shows no regard for the player.

"I'm going to be vigilant about concussions on our team because I know how damaging they can be."

Despite dealing with the sport's consequences, Shuster said she has no regrets about playing.

"Football is the greatest sport in the world," she said.

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