Women’s tackle football existed in Toledo as early as 1930 and, though Mrs. Herbert Hoover was successful in having the early teams disbanded for being an exploitation “of womanhood,” there has always been a push to keep the sport going. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the sport really began to be noticed in Toledo the Toledo Troopers, a team that many still remember.
Mitchi Collette is the coach, co-owner, and co-founder of Thee Toledo Reign, a team that is enjoying a successful run since 2003. She also enjoys discussing the history of women’s football (read more on their website). She played for the Troopers for seven years.
“Those of us playing football in the 70s, we never thought of it as being a women’s movement,” Collette said. “We were just a bunch of athletes that loved to play football.”
Collette coached the Toledo Spitfires, a team that did not have much success. “Being a Toledo Trooper, I was devastated,” Collette said. The Troopers have been described as the best team in the history of women’s football, so she was not used to losing. She pressed on, attending coaching clinics that brought her to a new level, and in 2003, she and co-founder Beth Razzoog left the Spitfires to form the Reign. Many Spitfire players ended up playing for the Reign as well.
Head Coach and General Manager Billy Lewis acknowledges that there are still people who make negative comments about women’s tackle football. “They say, ‘What is it? Like Lingerie Ball?’ It’s hard to do this; not just because of the physical demands of the sport.”
Thee Toledo Reign will go up against the Detroit Dark Angels during their last regular game of the 2018 season at 7pm on Saturday, June 9 at Rogers High School.
Maribeth Lewis: Teacher and mother of two
Linebacker and tight end Marabeth Lewis has taught 3rd grade for almost 10 years. She balances work and family with her dedication to playing football, which she has been doing ever since she can remember.
“I was usually the only girl playing,” she said. Many of the parents who saw her playing football were concerned for her safety, but Lewis assured them, “No, I’m the one out there (tackling) them!” She has been playing women’s tackle football for 13 years.
In 2005, a friend of Billy Lewis (her husband and coach) saw an advertisement in a Detroit paper recruiting women for the Detroit Predators. “He asked, ‘What girl’s going to ever try out for this?’ and Billy told him, ‘Actually, I know someone.’” Tryouts were that weekend, and Maribeth has been playing ever since.
Lewis played for the Detroit Predators from 2005-2007, then joined Thee Toledo Reign. She loves the game, mostly because she can “hit somebody and not go to jail,” she said. “Pure anger management.” She’s had three knee surgeries and wears hearing aids, though she can’t wear them during games.
“I’ve gotten very good at reading lips, knowing what’s going on, and understanding the plays,” she said. She’s never let it keep her down.
Miika Vining: College student and boxer
Monroe, Michigan quarterback Miika Vining is a born athlete. A softball player in high school, she has been boxing since she was nine years old. Though it’s hard to balance football and boxing, she still manages to do both, even with her busy schedule as an Owens Community College student.
On the Reign roster for three years now, Vining enjoys “the family atmosphere; getting to go out there and play with people who care about you.”
She found out about the team at a Pride festival, where the Reign had a booth set up. She decided to go to tryouts, but became nervous pulling into the parking lot. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Vining said. “I was kind of psyching myself out.” Describing herself as shy, she sees as one of her biggest challenges, which she’s overcome, “I’ve definitely come out of my shell more. Playing quarterback, I have to be more outspoken. That’s been the greatest obstacle for me.” She was put in to play quarterback unexpectedly after the starting quarterback was injured. “I just had to step up,” she said.
Toya Shinaul: ER nurse and mother of two
Wide receiver and defensive back, Toledoan Toya Shinaul began playing football in 2005.
“I’ve always watched football,” she said. “Since the late 80s–the Detroit Lions in the Barry Sanders era. Toledo Spitfire used to be on TV. One year I went to a tryout and ever since then I’ve been playing.” Her family wasn’t always on board with her decision to play. “I’m in my 30s, and my parents still look at me and ask, ‘Are you my child?’ They’re supportive now, but at first, they said, ‘Oh, no.’”
Shinaul was in nursing school when a player from the Reign approached her about trying out for the team. As soon as she got on the field she thought, “Okay. This is for me.”
One challenge Shinaul faces is her size. “I’ve always been one of the smallest,” she said. “I’m 5’7”, but I’ve always weighed between 120 and 140. Learning how to tackle and to read wide receivers, reading playbooks, learning all the intricate rules…those are all challenges too.”
Shinaul’s daughter (who has been coming to team practices since she was five weeks old) now, age 4, does drills with the team. It is not easy to be an ER RN with a 10-month-old and a four-year-old to take care of. Factoring in twice-a-week football practices and away games, it sounds nearly impossible. While pregnant, she had to sit out last season, and it was difficult to get back into shape afterwards. “It has been a challenge,” she said. “You just have to prioritize. Take it day-by-day. It requires sacrifice. I encourage women who want to play football to go for it.”
Maggie Alberts: Construction worker and mother of three
“There has been nothing holding me back from playing anything,” offensive and defensive lineman Maggie Alberts said. “I’ve played sports my entire life.” She grew up playing softball, soccer, and basketball, and she has been part of Thee Toledo Reign since its beginnings in 2003.
Co-founder Beth Razzoog approached Alberts while she was taking batting practice, asking her if she wanted to join the team. “I thought it was flag football,” Alberts said. “I showed up and said, ‘So, this is full tackle football?’”
Two things that Alberts loves most about the Reign: “Getting to hit somebody” and the awards often given out at the end of each practice, like awards dubbed “Hot Hands” for a good catch and “Follow that Ass” for following your blockers.
Alberts works in construction, so her work schedule, coupled with raising three kids (18, 12, and eight) is often tough. “I just got off three weeks of doing 12-hour days, so that was hard to miss practice, then work and show up to the games. I’m exhausted from the work day. I got through it though, and my teammates were behind me.” Alberts’ partner, Beth Emerson, also on the team, is a major source of support in helping with the kids and keeping the household schedules.