Every Tuesday and Thursday, the SoCal Scorpions head out to practice on an empty field at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Passers-by sometimes stop to watch the players in white jerseys and gold helmets, frequently asking, “Who are those guys?”
It’s hard to tell who’s beneath the bulky shoulder pads, but the gear strewn around the edge of the field - namely, the pink and purple gym bags - might give a hint.
Those guys are girls.
Founded in 2003 and originally located in Riverside County, the team is a member of the Professional Women’s Football League and plays its home games at La Jolla High School. There are seven coaches and about 50 players, coming from as far south as Chula Vista and as far north as Los Angeles. The youngest player is 18; the oldest is 41. Many are married, with children.
The 10-week, eight game season runs from August to October. Their first home game, against the Los Angeles Amazons, will be held Sept. 1 at La Jolla High School. Kick-off for most games is 5 p.m.
Joe and Ann Bagala, who raised their family in La Jolla, have owned the team for five years. Maintaining the team, which is 99 percent privately funded, is no easy task, but Ann Bagala does it for the girls, old and young.
“I alter a lot of their lives,” she said. “A lot of the women here have issues, and they leave on a different path. [It is empowering] to prove they can do it.”
Community outreach is vitally important to Bagala and the players. Volunteers speak to groups such as Girls Scouts and Boys & Girls Clubs, and sports clinics are conducted to teach youngsters the fundamentals of football. The players recognize their responsibilities as role models and find it rewarding to inspire the next generation of women.
The commitment of many players echoes Bagala’s own dedication to the team. Many are veterans, returning year after year. One player is a mother to six children. Probably the most incredible demonstration of love for the game comes from the player who broke her neck during a game. Three years later, she’s back out on the field.
“Compared to the men, I think there’s more passion involved, because (women) don’t have access to it,” Bagala said.
Each spring, Scorpion wannabes show up for try-outs. Some rookies haven’t even sat through a televised game of football when they come out, while others grew up playing the game with brothers or cousins.
This is the second season for Elizabeth Quintard, 27, of University City. Growing up, she played a variety of organized sports - soccer, baseball, basketball - but never had a chance at football until she learned about the Scorpions.
“I grew up playing with the boys in the neighborhood,” Quintard said, an avid athlete since childhood.
Last year she played linebacker; this year she’s a wide receiver. Along with learning various defensive and offensive strategies, she had to adjust to the concept that football was a contact sport.
“It was tough, getting out of the mind set that you can’t hurt somebody,” she said.
Asked if she sees a difference between male and female players, Quintard said all organizations have team players and showboaters, but “guys are better at hiding the drama.”
“Once you put the pads and helmets on, you can’t tell the difference,” she said.
Head Coach Dan Tovar joined the team in April. He played football at the U.S. Naval Academy and coached high school football for two years. Finding few high school coaching opportunities when the Navy brought him to San Diego, Tovar didn’t hesitate to put his hat in the ring when he learned the Scorpions were looking for a coach.
He’s found a few differences in heading up a women’s team.
“Believe it or not, I think it’s easier,” Tovar said. “From beginning to end of practice, they’re like sponges. These ladies, even the vets who’ve been doing this for several years, enjoy learning. What I’m most impressed with is the dedication these women have done this with. They do it because they love the game, and that’s why I enjoy coaching them.”
The Women’s Professional Football League mirrors the NFL. It is divided into the American and National conferences, and teams adhere to the same regulations. It is full-contact tackle football.
“Our hope is that it’s not going to be any different for any of our fans,” Tovar said. “They run. They run fast. They hit. They hit hard. I think anyone who comes to a game this year is going to leave pleasantly surprised.”
For more information about the So Cal Scorpions, including their 2007 game schedule, go to www.socalscorpions.com or call (877) 717-8464.