I’ve always imagined what it would be like to be a star athlete. Oh, to experience the glory and thrill of a roaring crowd cheering you on as you score the winning point at the last second of the big game. Is there anything more exhilarating?
Probably not. If I ever win an Oscar, Emmy, Pulitzer—fine I’ll settle for a Nobel Prize—maybe then I’ll get a taste of this #winning feeling. Until then, I’ve decided to settle for the thrill of playing in the yearly Blondes vs. Brunettes flag football game, which has raised more than $100,000 in the last seven years for the Central Ohio Alzheimer’s Association.
The truth is I joined the Brunettes team because I was too lazy to workout on my own, and I figured at least one of the players would have a cute brother. Don’t look at me sideways! Did you really start doing crossfit because it seemed “fun”? And if you love it now, does it really matter?
True to my inquisitive self, the first thing I did after signing up was research. I was hoping to find a “how to” manual for rookies, but when I Googled: “girls playing flag football,” I got some mixed results of little girls playing powder puff, bedazzled footballs, and of course there was no escaping the Lingerie Bowl. Yes, I too was surprised to learn that this is not a licensed NCAA ball game sponsored by Victoria’s Secret.
When I later Googled: “flag football equipment for women,” I found links to “cute” outfits for women planning to stay in the center position longer than a regulated snap count. Disappointed with my search results, I turned to the real experts—friends who like football.
Luckily, my friend Claudia married a retired flag footballer who promised to turn me into a pro, or at least the best damn bench warmer you’ve ever seen. “It’s easy,” he said, “you just need to learn some basics. Can you catch?” I rolled my eyes, “Pfff, yes I can catch!” (I was choking on my words 10 dropped passes later.)
The first training camp was a little intimidating. Fortunately, we started with a great introductory lesson given by the coaches. (All of whom were either taken or not my type, in case you were wondering.) Not that it mattered because my first official day as a flag footballer was in April, so it was 45 degrees and raining. The ground was slippery… and so were the balls. I fell trying to catch some passes and almost cried when I caught a ball with my stomach.
Though my athleticism still hadn’t blossomed, I had one thing no male athlete could compete with—female stubbornness.
I stuck with it and a few weeks later I was catching, running routes, and memorizing plays like a pro. I found a new level of respect for football. Turns out it’s not easy running forward while looking back at the QB, trusting that she’s going to put the ball in your hands. Concussions aside, football not only requires great athletic skill, it’s mentally draining to remember so many plays.
By May, I had replaced my Nordstrom card with a Dick’s membership. My fashion habit was on hold while I spent my afternoons in search of gloves, mouth guards, cleats (from the kids section), and anything that would help lessen the pain of a fall or an elbow to the chest. (Thank you extra-padded sports bras.)
On game day, the announcer called my name: “From Mexico City, Mexico #4 Maribel Quezada!” I waved at the crowd, excited and terrified. A coin toss later, I heard our defense coach yell, “Maribel, you’re up!” My knees were shaking as I took my position. My blonde opponent who looked so cute and friendly at the draft party was now staring me down, cheeks swollen from her mouth guard, with Cuba Gooding Jr. determination. I wanted to call a timeout so I could go pee… or run.
We led in the first half after two touchdowns—one by my teammate’s interception. A few good tackles into the game, I was having a blast. Our team’s vibe and energy on the field was intoxicating.
It started raining after half time and I could feel my muscles getting tighter. After a couple of big plays by the Blondes and the injury of a teammate, we were trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. As the clock ran down to the last sixty seconds, we cheerfully reminded each other what a great cause this was. The final score was 26-19, Blondes over Brunettes. And while I didn’t get the glorious sports moment I’ve always dreamt of, I did get to make fabulous new friends while supporting a wonderful organization.– Maribel Quezada
To donate or participate in this year’s BvB, held June 25 at St. Francis DeSales High School, visit act.alz.org.