Monthly Archives: December 1999

Prehistory

Beginnings

The New Yorks Sharks originally started as a women’s flag football team called the Long Island Sharks. They played in international tournaments and were national champions.

In 1999 the Women’s Professional Football League was formed. It consisted of two teams, the Minnesota Vixens and the Lake Michigan Minx. They barnstormed around the country playing each other in what was called the “No Limits” Tour. They had heard about the success of the Long Island Sharks and challenged them to a full contact, tackle football game.

The Sharks accepted the challenge and with two months to prepare, converted their flag football team to a tackle football team. On Saturday, December 11th, the Minnesota Vixens came to Mitchell Field to take on the Sharks. The Vixens were definitely the favorites having played 4 games already and had a 2-2 record.

The Sharks were coached by former New York Jet Bobby Jackson. Before 300 fans on a windy day at Mitchell Field, the Sharks shocked Minnesota, defeating them 12-6. The Sharks scored on two touchdown passes by quarterback Val Halesworth in the third quarter. One score was on a bomb to Natalie Jufer that led to a 71-yard touchdown. The other score was a 17 yard pass to Valerie Monaco.

For more on the game, you can read two New York Times articles, “That’s Football, Ladies” and “Quarterback Plays as Tough as She Talks”.

Click here for the 1999 Sharks roster
1 2 3 4 Final
Minnesota Vixens 0 6 0 0 6
New York Sharks 0 0 12 0 12

Scoring Summary
Second Quarter
MN – (00:37) 1 yard (Kick failed)

Third Quarter
NY – (01:43) Jufer 71 yard pass from Halesworth (run failed)
NY – (00:00) Monaco17 yard pass from Halesworth (run failed)

Quarterback Plays as Tough as She Talks

New York Times

It was a heck of a game. The quarterback would show you some of her better bruises, but modesty forbids.

So how about a description of the big game last Sunday, in which Val Halesworth (a k a Crazy Val) of the New York Sharks threw the winning touchdowns against the Minnesota Vixens, in a Women’s Professional Football League exhibition game. Tackle football, we’re talking, at the Mitchell Athletic Complex in Uniondale, on Long Island.

“The gun fires, everybody flies down the field,” says Ms. Halesworth, the 133-pound quarterback, who is a coach at Oyster Bay High and who has brought along to the interview at the school a teammate, Missy Marmorale, a construction worker. “I try to bootleg; the defensive end didn’t bite. She grabbed my shirt a little bit, and I stiff-armed her” – happy conspiratorial chuckle between teammates here – “and I threw the pass: 71-yard pass, only in the air for about 40.”

So it was exciting to finally be able to play tackle football?

“It was so great,” Ms. Halesworth says. “We’ve been talking about it for a year. Any conversation always turns into football. It’s our passion. We love it, like an artist likes to paint, like a writer like to write —“

“I like to smash people,” Ms. Marmorale says.

Some believed they would never see women play pro football, and despite what you may have heard about the Sharks’ one-time game, they probably still have not.

Professionals, after all, get paid, and the New York Sharks, many of whom are members of a flag (no tackling) football team called the Long Island Sharks, did not. Also, you never heard of an N.F.L. player asked to sell tickets. Ms. Halesworth, 33, was, selling $400 worth.

There weren’t a lot of spectators at the game either, about 300 in a 12,000-seat stadium, though one gets the feeling that if creditors of the league’s Minnesota-based founders have been invited, there might have been. The league’s director, Terry Sullivan, and president, Carter Turner, have a business record that is heavy in the loss column.

Some arenas refuse to let their teams play because of failure to pay. Mr. Sullivan was reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press to have debts of $40,000 from his semipro Mid-American Football League. At the moment, the Sharks’ founder, Jacqueline Colon, has no plans to pay the $50,000 to join the women’s league.

Still, why should that reflect on New York’s first female football hero, who threw two touchdowns in Sunday’s game?

Ms. Halesworth “bleeds football.” Talks like the tomboy in the old Dead End Kids movies, extra tough, though she undercuts the effect by calling her visitor before the lunchtime interview and asking her if she can bring her something to eat. Wears baby blue eye shadow that matches her sweater, but under the sweater, there are tattoos, a bellybutton ring, and two other piercings in places where most ladies, playing contact sports, would not desire them. Is self-conscious about her battered hands, although her boyfriend, who drives an 18-wheeler, got on her about it, she took care of him the way she handled the Vixens.

“I said, ‘Take it or leave it; it comes with the territory,'” she says. “I’m not dainty.”

What she is – was, growing up in Oyster Bay – is a jock; the first girl to play football with the local police boys’ club, captain of the Oyster Bay High field hockey, basketball and softball teams. In her scrapbooks, there is a picture of Ms. Halesworth, at 8, receiving an M.V.P. award at the boys’ club, with her dad, an auto mechanic, smiling proudly.

In fact, says Ms. Halesworth, whose parents are now divorced, her father was never there for her. It was her mom, a teacher’s aide, who went to the officials of the boy’s club when they said a girl couldn’t play football and Ms. Halesworth came home in tears. As for encouragement from her dad, there was none.

“No pleasing him, I’d come home from a game, scored 30 points, and he’d want to know why I missed the foul shot. I think sometimes that’s why I tried so hard in sports: I kind of had to prove myself.”

Ms. Halesworth gets a full basketball scholorship to the University of Pittsburgh, leaves a few months shy of graduation after arguing with her coach; she was immature, she says now. She began coaching at Oyster Bay High eight years ago. – oops, excuse us a moment, Ms. Halesworth is getting a call from an orthopedic surgeon, who wants to help the team. Where were we? – last weekend’s win was the best day of her life.

One hates to rain on anyone’s game, but a pierced football player can probably handle it. Ms. Halesworth has heard of the league’s financial problems. A sad nod.

“Monday, people were saying the Sharks won the Super Bowl. Now we hear all the horror stories behind the scene, and the dream fizzles a little.”

Some stories:

“They had these beautiful jerseys they were going to give us. We got these paper-thin little iron-ons – not that I care, I’d play in rags. They told us things that didn’t pan out: we were going to go to the Jets-Giants game, going to be introduced at halftime, were going to have press conferences, maybe be on TV.”

She really thinks there will be a professional women’s league?

A shrug. “If it doesn’t happen, so be it. The sun will come up tomorrow, and I’ll still play ball, someway, somehow.”

by Joyce Wadler