History of the Women’s Game, Part 1: 100 Years in the Making

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Since a big part of this blog is going to be discussing women’s football, we might as well go over some history to give everyone context. The sport of women’s football actually is a lot older than you probably realize. It’s important to note that in a lot of ways, the development of the sport is similar to other women’s sports in that there was a select few pioneers early that paved the way.

You will notice from the picture at the top of the page that women were playing in the 1920s. In 1926, women from the Frankford Yellow Jackets played at half time at NFL games. This is fascinating because during that time period, the NFL was struggling to separate itself and compete with the popularity of the college game. The notion that one of the gimmicks to entertain people at halftime was the birthplace of the sport, is ironic to say the least. Especially considering the era.

In 1965, a talent agent from Cleveland named Sid, started the WPFL with a team in Akron and one in Cleveland. They added several other teams in the Midwest but then folded the league in 1973.

In 1970, Patricia Barzi Palinkas was the first female to play on a men’s semi-pro team:

In 1974 the NWFL (National Women’s Football League) was founded and included several teams including Dallas, Columbus, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Historian Anne Enke wrote an indepth profile on this league through the lense of feminism called Finding the Movement.

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By 1978, the NWFL had expanded into 3 divisions until teams from the western division split, and formed the Western States Professional Football League.

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The NWFL lasted a good portion through the 80s until teams fell off, split into different 2 sections in 1988, the NWFL led by Toledo

who had been the juggernaut of the league, and the other led by Grand Rapids. Later, teams in the NWFL tore off to play flag football.

This left a huge hole for the sport until 1999 the NWFL came back as the NWFA (National Womens Football Association). This lasted around 8 years and was the birthplace of several teams that still exist. The league folded in 2008.

NWFA Promo:

Around the same time, in 2000, the IWFL (Independent Women’s Football League) started up. The IWFL has seen many changes and many teams come and go throughout the years and currently has around 30 active teams. This is the league the first team I played on, the Corvallis Pride, was in. It is also where the time I currently play on, the Seattle Majestics played for several years. The IWFL plays with a distinct red, white, and blue ball which is similar to the old ABA or Globetrotter balls in basketball.

IWFL team NY Sharks 2001 highlights:

The WFA (Women’s Football Alliance), started in 2009 out of California and begin play with around 30 teams. It has grown to as many as 60 and is currently sitting at around 40. This is the league I have played in the last 6 years. One of the highlights of the league has been the championship game that was played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in 2012. They have also had championship and all-American games broadcast on ESPN3.

2012 WFA Championship Promo:

The WSFL (Womens Spring Football League) started their regular season in 2011. They boast both an 11s division and 8s division. They have had a goal of providing opportunity to any players and teams that want to play.

2012 WSFL Promo:

Currently, there are 3 leagues still in existance, the WFA, IWFL, and WSFL. All 3 have experienced musical chairs from teams shuffling around, trying to find the best spot they can.

As you can see, this sport has had a complicated growth. Just in the 9 years I’ve played, I’ve seen tremendous progress. It seems each year I play there are more and more opportunities. The snowball is just beginning to gain speed down the hill.

Next week I will address the history of the international game.

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