Monthly Archives: January 2002
he New York Sharks were the subject of a documentary by Eli Kibillio and Lorna Thomas. The film was titled First Down. Below is a description of the film and the trailer. You need Apple’s Quicktime to view the trailer which is 1:08 in length.
*FIRST DOWN (1 x 54 Min. and 79 Min.versions, Color)There are no cameras, few reporters and only a few hundred fans, but the athletes on this football field and four others around the United States are making history. The Women’s Professional Football League is in its first year of operation and competing against more than the usual problems facing a new sports league. With low salaries, no endorsements and little publicity, the WPFL is facing an even bigger hurdle, the stereotype of women not being tough enough to play tackle football.
FIRST DOWN follows the New York Sharks as they play their first season in the WPFL. We meet former homecoming queen and owner/quarterback Andra Douglas who is struggling to keep her team on track for the play-offs despite dwindling league funds. Anna “Tonka” Tate is a 5’11”, 305-pound offensive line person by night and elementary school teacher’s assistant by day. Former All-American basketball player Val Halesworth has dreamed of playing pro football her entire life and was the MVP of the boys’ league at thirteen. Linebacker can’t imagine life without football as she works her construction job and plays half the season with a broken hand. The film examines the exhilaration of competition and the rigor of the players’ daily lives as they balance careers and families with their passion for football.
The Sharks breeze through the early part of their schedule, but are mired in controversy with the league as the WPFL runs out of money and shortens the regular season. The Sharks are thrust into a first round playoff match-up with their bitter rivals the New England Storm for the Eastern Conference title. The play-off game is a seesaw battle as both teams struggle to reach their dream of playing in the first WPFL Championship Game.
|hen 25-year-old Elmhurst resident Tara Passoni was growing up in Western Queens, she was the only girl in her neighborhood who loved to roll up her sleeves, pull back her hair, and play sports with the boys.
“I was the only one out there, no matter what the weather was, playing all the sports I could. No other girls played. I was kind of on my on my own, I guess,” she said.
Passoni, who once authored a story for the Queens Tribune, isn’t on her own anymore.
She is one of approximately 40 members of the world champion New York Sharks, a professional woman’s tackle football team that plays its home games at August Martin High School in Jamaica, making it Queens’ second pro team… behind the New York Mets.
Passoni, who plays on both the offensive and defensive lines for the Sharks, said she “loves the game,” and said, “When I was growing up, I played touch football and I watched men’s football, but there was really no opportunity for women in that sport. Now, it’s just so sweet to play it. I love it. I love hitting people. It’s great.”
Passoni is the only Queens members of the Sharks, which has been in existence for three years but just this year joined the Independent Woman’s Football League (IWFL) – a national women’s tackle football league with 14 teams across the country. In their freshman effort, the Sharks were undefeated, with four shut-outs in eight games. They went on to beat the Austin Outlaws 24-4 in the IWFL Superbowl, making them league champions.
Although the league is “professional in terms of skill and in terms of sponsorship,” according to Sharks General Manager Crystal Turpin, the players on the team are all volunteers, strapping on uniforms and helmets once a week for the “pride and desire to win and be competitive.” She said, “Hopefully in the future, we can pay them. But right now, they play solely for the love of the game.”
The women under the elbow pads and behind the chinstraps are cops, construction workers, teachers, doctors, and lawyers. There is an ex-Marine and grandmother. “We have everything,” Turpin said.
What all of the women have in common is a love for Queens, the place that the Sharks called home for the 2002 season.
Turpin said, “We have been looking for a home for a long time. The people in Queens have accepted us. They love us. They cheer for us. We feel at home here, and I think this is where we’re going to stay.”
|Right At Home|
|From her Manhattan office, Passoni, a professional information security expert, told the Tribune that her older brother, Jason is the man who inspired and encouraged her to watch and play as many different games as possible. “He got me into sports real young. I’ve been playing since I was in diapers basically,” she said.
Passoni played softball, basketball, touch football and tennis as a child. She has competed in Olympic weightlifting and crew. She mountain bikes in her free time, and has taught basketball. While she loved all of the sports she has played, she has never felt as at home as she does on the Sharks.
“It’s so great to see other women with the same passion for sports that I have,” she told the Tribune. “I so admire their athleticism and abilities. We are so connected on this team. It’s such a spirit of camaraderie … When I was in the 11- to 15-year-old range, things were a lot different than they are for 11- to 15-year olds now. There is just so much more opportunity. I have an 11-year-old sister, and I’m just so glad to see her be able to join track and field and have people not think it’s weird.”
While Passoni’s first love is sports, she also loves writing, and she wrote a story for the Queens Tribune in 1998 about religion. “I really enjoyed doing that. It was fun . . . I was friends with Jeremy Olshan – the old editor – who I went to college with at Sarah Lawrence. That was a great experience.”
|Passoni and the rest of the Sharks destroyed the competition this year under Coach Nick Giannatasio, easily winning all eight of their games to become Eastern Division champs during a championship season. They managed to shut out four teams during the year, and outscored their opponents 372 to 18. The most points any team scored against The Sharks during the year was six.
Passoni said this season – her second – was all about fun. “My first year was all about intensive learning. The first time you tackle someone is tough. It hurts. If you’ve never played in a real pro game before, with 100 yards and 21 people on the field, it’s a little intimidating, but with practice and experience, you get comfortable in what you’re doing. I sure have.”
The IWFL uses the same rules as the National Football League (NFL), and Turpin said, “We do everything the same way. We have the same excitement as any men’s team. We hit just as hard, run just as hard and play just as hard. No men’s team beats anyone 73 to nothing, I’ll tell you that.”
The Sharks went to the IWFL Superbowl in Oregon on July 6, and beat the Austin Outlaws 24-4. Turpin said before the game, “We’re confident. But we never take anything for granted.”
Maybe they don’t take anything for granted, but the Sharks know that they’re good. During the last game of the season, the Bay State Warriors scored two points on a safety, and Sharks player Anna Tate could be heard yelling with a laugh, “Man, you messed up my point spread.”
|On the Sidelines|
|The Sharks played all of their games on Saturdays, bringing crowds of up to 300 to their field at August Martin High School. Turpin said, “We started with small crowds, and now they’re getting bigger. People are hearing about us, and people are loving us . . . It’s a fun day out. People should check it out.”
For $10, fans can watch all four quarters of football from the August Martin bleachers. There is plenty of free street parking, and a barbecue is held every game with Shark Burgers and Shark Dogs for sale. All of the ticket takers and food vendors are either former players or friends of the sharks, and Turpin said, “We’re like a family. Everyone loves the team and is proud of the game. We’re all one here.”
|While Passoni said the game is “exciting and fun,” there is a degree of seriousness to this year’s Sharks team.
On Christmas morning 2001, 28-year-old Linebacker Sharon Pascale was killed in a car crash on her way home from a family gathering. Passoni called Pascale, “a great girl and a great athlete,” and said, “this has been a tough year for us. It’s really emotional for all of us.”
Each member of the Sharks had the number “51” on their jersey this year in honor of Pascale, and the season was dedicated to her. Passoni said, “It just makes the season all the more important.”
She added, “Sept. 11 made the year really tough. Girls on the team lost relatives in the collapse and everything. It was hard. It hasn’t been easy for us this season.”
Pascale was one of four Sharks who volunteered at Ground Zero in the weeks following Sept. 11. She was there as a member of the Red Cross, Offensive Lineman Beth Nugent was there as a Nassau County Police Officer, Punter Aurora Lighthart was there as an EMT, and Offensive Lineman Nikki Cerrato was there as a construction worker helping with clean-up.
Turpin said, “Beth pulled someone to safety at Ground Zero. They really helped.”
|The IWFL was formed in 2000, and is one of the first pro women’s tackle football leagues.
Team members are chosen through open try-outs, which are announced on the team website. Turpin said, “Most of the girls on the team played flag football. I used to. That’s how they learned to play.”
The owner of the Sharks is Andra Douglas, one of the team’s quarterbacks. The team is looking for more sponsors, and Turpin said, “We’re looking to expand. We are going to grow.”
The team is already on the radar of Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who honored the team recently for their outstanding season.
For more information on the Sharks, or to suggest a name for their anonymous shark mascot, go to www.nysharksfootball.com, or call Turpin at 646-552-5798.
-by Angela Montefinise
Ribby Goodfellow (f.l.) and Jennifer Gerson (f.r) present congratulatory letter from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to NY Sharks Owner/Quarterback Andra Douglas (r.) and General Manager Crystal Turpin (l.) for winning the National Championship of the IWFL on July 6, 2002. Celebration took place at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant on July 25th.
ill Liederman, owner of Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant provided the perfect place for a grand evening as the New York Sharks celebrated their National Championship victory on Thursday, July 25th.
Among the guests were Cris Reeves from Governor Pataki’s office, Ribby Goodfellow, representing Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sports Commissioner Ken Podziba from Mayor Bloomberg’s office.
Goodfellow read one of the letters presented to the winning team. “It gives me great pleasure to send greetings to each of you celebrating the accomplishments of the New York Sharks Women’s Pro Tackle Football Team.
A mere three weeks ago, the New York Sharks made history. The Sharks broke new ground in women’s athletics in 2002 by completing a shutout season and then winning the Independent Women’s Football League’s inaugural Championship Game. True to the ‘larger-than-life’ energy that embodies New York, the Sharks displayed finesse and force in their 24-4 win against the Austin Outlaws.
Each member of the New York Sharks embodies the determination that has led the team to its extraordinary success. I especially commend the work of Andra Douglas, the New York Sharks’ owner and quarterback, for her dedication to advancing women’s football here in New York…Sincerely, Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
The proud team members got to hear another letter that Ken Podziba brought along adding: “On behalf of the City of New York, I commend all those associated with the New York Sharks for an outstanding, undefeated season. You are tru champions and an inspiration to young girls throughout our great City”.
Was this all that defined history for this awesome team? Andra Douglas shared a letter that she had received after the Director of Exhibits at the Women’s Museum in Dallas, Texas had requested a team uniform: “We are very excited at the opportunity to exhibit a New York Sharks uniform! It will be the perfect accompaniment to the other Objects in the exhibit. Your uniform will be alongside Babe Didrickson’s golf bag, Christy Barrett’s snowboard, Althea Gibson’s Wimbledon trophy, and Michelle Kwan’s skate among other notable items.”
What’s next? Hmmm…seems there was a women named Bev who was interviewing the players for a Queens cable tv program. I’ll let you know when it will be aired.
-by Merle Exit
Although the New York Sharks, with their sixth win, had already cemented their title as the IWFL Eastern Division Champions, they were still driven by an unseen but easily felt force – their late captain and teammate, Sharon Pascale, #51.
As most who follow the Sharks and the IWFL are aware, the team lost Sharon, their starting linebacker and co-captain to an early morning car accident on Christmas Day 2001. The Sharks publicly dedicated their entire 2002 season to honoring Sharon’s memory. They privately promised her the undefeated season that she always knew they could accomplish.
Sharon, in her all-too-short time with us, was an inspiration to everyone and everything around her. She showed others that with strength of character, not just body, you could achieve anything you set your sights on. She was more than just a talented athlete and a leader amongst peers. She was a teacher, a cousin, an aunt, a sister, a daughter, and a friend. She played football (and softball) the way she lived her life: hard and all-out, gaining and sharing wisdom, maintaining dignity and humor above all.
In winning the last two games of their 2002 season, the Sharks did something much more significant than reserving a spot for themselves in the IWFL Championship Game. They kept a promise made to a fallen comrade in the darkest hours and saddest times. The team persevered when they felt they could not go on. They banded together when they felt like falling apart. They gave back that 110% that Sharon always afforded them… and having done so, completed a perfect season.
This one’s for you, Sharon! May your grace and laughter shine over us and show through us… guiding us down the field of life.
Ariadne “Red” DeGarr
NY Sharks, #86 – DT
Albany, New York, June 1, 2002
It was a very pleasant evening in the Capital District area as the New York Sharks (5-0) took on the Albany Night-Mares (0-4) at Bleeker Stadium. The Sharks were the heavy favorites taking on a win-less Albany team. The Night-Mares have played a few close games but have not put one in the win column yet. The Night-Mares are owned by former Sharks player, Andrea Barnard.
Things started off well for the Sharks despite Albany winning the coin toss. Surprisingly the Night-Mares elected to kick the ball. This meant that the Sharks would not only receive the ball on the opening kickoff but on the second-half kickoff as well.
The Sharks got on the board first, taking advantage of an Albany miscue. Punting from their own 28 yard line, the Night-Mares had a bad snap with the Sharks getting the ball on Albany’s 25 yard line. 5 plays later, quarterback Val Halesworth connected in the back of the end zone with Patti Height for a 13 yard touchdown pass at the 6:59 mark of the first quarter. The 2 point conversion failed, making the score 6-0.
The Sharks took advantage of another Albany punting situation in the second quarter. New York’s defense had pushed the Night-Mares back to their own 13 yard line forcing them to punt. A low snap allowed linebacker Missy Marmorale to tackle punter Kim Weinhofer before she could get a good kick off. Shark’s Beth Nugent recovered the ball on Albany’s 6 yard line. Two carries by Courtney Eaton moved the ball to less than 6 inches from the goal line. From there, Halesworth punched the ball in on a quarterback sneak. The two point conversion was good on a pass from Halesworth to Monica Marsh pushing New York’s lead to 14-0 at 8:09 in the second quarter.
Going into the locker room at halftime, the Sharks had a 2 touchdown lead, but that was the smallest lead they have had at this junction all season. The team appeared to be playing a bit flat, getting called for off-sides and holding penalties, and Albany was getting a lot of penetration from their defensive line, giving the Shark’s quarterback little time to set herself for passes. Defensively, New York was shutting out Albany, but it was not as dominating as usual.
The Sharks received the ball on the kickoff to begin the second half. But New York’s offense seemed to be sputtering. On the first series, they could not get a first down and on the third down and long situation, Halesworth was sacked for a 13 yard loss. The Sharks punted to the Night-Mares but they could not do anything against the New York defense and were forced to punt. On the next series, the Sharks again had trouble moving the ball. In another third down and long situation, Halesworth was sacked again for a 10 yard loss.
Punting from their own 38 yard line, Aurora Lighthart received a low snap and Night-Mare’s Connie Neal busted through the line to block the punt. The ball bounced back towards the Shark’s goal and was finally recovered by Lighthart at the 18 yard line.
Albany handed the ball off twice to running back Talisha Hargis who picked up 4 yards each time to move the ball to New York’s 10 yard line. On the crucial third down play, the Sharks were called for off-sides giving Albany a first down with the ball at the 5 yard line. Three plays late, Hargis was able to punch it in from the 1 foot line to put Albany on the board. The Night-Mares lined up to kick for the extra point, but it turned out to be a trick play. The Shark’s were not tricked and the pass by Hargis fell incomplete. This made the score 14-6 in favor of the Sharks.
This was only the second touchdown that New York has given up all season and Shark fans were starting to get a bit nervous. Albany possibly sensing a turn in momentum tried to force the issue by going for an on-side kick. The short kick was easily handled by Lynn Lewis and now New York had the ball on the 50 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, the Sharks still looked to be a bit ragged as they were quickly called for illegal motion. New York was moving backwards again, looking at a long first down and 15 yards to go.
The Sharks needed to stem the tide and started to go back to the basics, give the ball to Eaton. 6 straight handoffs to Eaton running on the inside resulted in the ball being moved to Albany’s 21 yard line. Then to change the pace, New York ran a pitchout to the left side tossing the ball to Virginia “Cha Chi” Leon. She broke one tackle but was heading into a wall of 3 Night-Mare defenders. Nikki Cerrato came to the rescue taking out the 3 would-be tacklers on a hit that looked like a bowling ball knocking down pins. This left Leon to run free down the left side line to score the Shark’s third touchdown of the game. The extra point attempt was blocked but the score was now 20-6 at the 0:23 mark of the third quarter.
With the game in the fourth quarter, the Shark’s seemed to be back in control. After kicking off to the Night-Mares, the defense held and was able to give the ball back to the offense on Albany’s 43 yard line. The Sharks stayed with the basics and kept the ball on the ground. Runs by Eaton, Leon, and Halesworth moved the ball down to the Night-Mare’s 2 yard line. From there, Eaton punched it in for the touchdown and New York was able to convert the 2 point conversion on a pass from Halesworth to Valerie Monaco. With 8:53 remaining in the game, the score was 28-6 and New York was back in cruise control.
The final score by the Sharks came after another botched punt play by Albany. Beth Nugent was able to recover the ball on Night-Mares 35 yard line. Again New York kept it on the ground with runs by Eaton and Leon. The Shark’s fifth and final touchdown being scored by Eaton on an 8 yard run up the middle at 3:27. The 2 point conversion failed but the game was well in hand for New York, 34-6.
It was an ugly win for New York as they appeared to play flat for most of the game. But when things got close, the team seemed to rise to the occassion and put the Night-Mares away. The Sharks were happy to come away with the not so pretty win with only a few “dinged up” players (nothing serious). The victory keeps the New Yorkers undefeated and more importantly on top of the IWFL eastern division.
The star of the game was announced to be Courtney Eaton for her 201 rushing yards on 36 carries and for scoring 2 touchdowns. Talisha Hargis of the Albany Night-Mares was the star for her team as she rushed for 60 yards on 15 carries and scored only the second touchdown against the Sharks this year. The game ball was given to Virginia “Cha Chi” Leon for her giving the Sharks a lift when they needed it with some spectacular running plays and also for a nice interception in the second quarter.
Next week, the Sharks remain on the road to play their arch-rivals, the Bay State Warriors in Revere, Massachusetts. It is a very important game as a victory by New York could clinch them a playoff berth.