While football has largely been known as a male-dominated sport, many women are changing that narrative.
One is Waterloo native Jamie Skinner, who devotes months of her life to the sport.
Skinner plays many positions on the St. Louis SLAM, a Women’s Football Alliance team, including strong safety, backup wide receiver and special teams.
Through a friend, Skinner was introduced to SLAM just in time for 2018-19 season tryouts. Needless to say, Skinner made the team and helped lead it to its fourth national championship.
“I didn’t even know St. Louis had a team, actually,” Skinner said. “I tell people all the time that I wish I would have known sooner because I would have started playing way earlier.”
She explained women’s tackle football is just like playing on any other dedicated team: players devote multiple hours a week to practice, they travel across the region for away games and are coached by pros.
“(The coaches) run our organization very professionally and they set it up just like they would if they were coaching any other team, whether it’s high school or college,” Skinner explained. “We break down film, we get stuff sent to us … (With) all of our plays that we’re responsible for studying and we change our plays and our game plan based on who we’re playing. It’s detailed and we spend a lot of time preparing for each team that we play.”
While Skinner is a life-long athlete, SLAM was her first opportunity to play football in an atmosphere like this.
“I’ve always loved football,” Skinner said. “I grew up watching it and playing it, (but) I never had the opportunity to actually play on an organized team with legitimate coaches. I’ve always played sports my whole life since I was little … really whatever I can play, I’ll do. So, I thought it seemed like an amazing opportunity to get to play a sport that I’ve never really got a chance to before.”
Even though Skinner would work out with the Waterloo High School football team when she was in school, she said it was still clear that football – at that time – was for men only.
“I used to lift weights with the football team and the football coach at Waterloo,” Skinner said. “I had always joked around about wanting to play and wanting to try out and I think it was kind of laughed off at that time.”
Skinner is proud to say she believes this is changing, though. WHS football kicker Lexi Stephens is one of a growing number of examples of this.
One of Skinner’s teammates actually played with SLAM while also playing for her high school team.
“There are a lot more girls that are getting the chance to play on their high school teams (now),” Skinner said. “I just read the article about the young lady (Stephens) who is kicking for Waterloo, which is so exciting … I think the more and more that happens, it’s going to be a really positive thing. I love the direction that it’s trending. It’s becoming more known as a sport that women can play, which is exciting.”
Women entering the sport is not necessarily a new concept, as evidenced by SLAM’s founding in 2003. Yet, it is all the more visible now thanks to high-schoolers like Stephens, colleges adding women to their rosters and creating women-only flag teams, as well as the increasing popularity of women’s only leagues like the WFA.
Skinner said one of the biggest advantages to playing on a women-only team is that she now has another family, which she and other teammates affectionately dub their “SLAM-ily.”
“I’ve never felt more a part of something,” Skinner said. “I’ve been on a lot of teams for a lot of years, (and) this is by far my favorite team I’ve ever been on.”
SLAM typically has about 35 athletes on its roster, all of whom come from different backgrounds. Skinner said the majority of her teammates came to the team with no prior football experience.
“It really is for all women. It doesn’t matter your shape, size, profession. We have such a wide variety of women on the team and we always end up finding a spot for everyone that comes out. So, it’s very inclusive,” Skinner said.
It’s not just those on the field who feel this bond. SLAM’s alumni help with anything and everything on game days, whether it’s chains on the sideline or working concessions, Skinner said.
Skinner explained that SLAM’s players essentially pay to play, as the team is non-for-profit and each player is responsible for bringing in a set amount of money to support all operations from uniforms to renting their home field, which is at St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis.
This inevitably bolsters strong ties with its surrounding communities, Skinner said.
“We have to bring money to the table if we want to be able to make it work the way we want, so we do a lot of community outreach,” Skinner said. “We’re always available as a team to help out, we love to volunteer, we love to help with different sports camps and get involved wherever we can because the community helps us and we want to make sure we are a good presence in the community.”
Just a few weeks ago, Skinner and some teammates returned to her old stomping grounds to spend time coaching the Full Circle Sportz youth flag football team in Waterloo.
She said she hopes experiences like these – with professional female players coaching little boys – will help further normalize women on the field.
“I think it’s kind of cool to expose the young men a little bit to (women in football),” Skinner said. “(We) show them that we know what we’re talking about, we know what we’re doing and girls can play too, so it will be more normal for them to have some more girls on their team growing up.”
For more information on SLAM, including tryouts, merchandise and more, visit stlslamfootball.com.