A pair of Hesston natives will be representing Team USA at the second International Federation of American Football's Women's World Championships June 30 through July 7 in Vantaa, Finland.
Sisters Katie and Liz Sowers, both Hesston High School graduates, were selected for the team after a tryout in Austin. There were 45 players selected to the team.
"I was pretty nervous going to tryouts," Katie said. "It was the first time I'd ever been to something like that. I didn't know what position I would play. They were only going to be six wide receivers and six defensive backs. I knew Liz was going out for wide receiver, so I decided to go out for defensive back, so we wouldn't have to compete against each other for a spot. I'm glad we both got selected."
After graduating Hesston High School in 2004, Liz played two years of basketball at Hesston College and then two more years at Oakland (Mich.) University, where she was a two-time academic all-conference selection. He helped lead Oakland to a Women's NIT berth as a junior.
Katie played two years of basketball and softball at Hesston College, then transfered to Goshen College, where she played two years of basketball, one year of soccer and one year of track.
"We played ever since we were little," Liz said. "We used to play with the boys in the neighborhood. We used to play tackle. We never had the opportunity to play competitively. For Christmas, our dad bought us football pads. That was probably the best present I ever got."
"I always liked football growing up," Katie said. "It was always my favorite sport. I played basketball because there wasn't any football for me to play. I used to call up the neighborhood boys every Sunday and would have games."
While at Goshen, Katie said she saw a story about a women's football team in Kalamazoo, Mich., which was a little over an hour's drive from Goshen. Both of them tried out and both made the team — the West Michigan Mayhem.
After playing for the Mayhem, both moved to the Kansas City area. Katie is currently an admission's councilor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Liz recently finished her master's work at UMKC, where she also served as graduate assistant coach.
The two then joined teams in Kansas City. They both currently play for the Kansas City Titans, which won its division of the Women's Football Alliance with a 6-1 record and will open playoff action Saturday against the St. Louis Slam.
"I really enjoy going to practice every day and being with my teammates," Katie said. "A lot of the girls have kids, so practices are a lot like a playground. While we're practicing, the kids are on the sidelines playing."
"We don't get paid for this, in fact, we pay a fee to play," Liz said. "We do it for the fun of it."
Women's football use mostly the same rules as the men. Most of the playing rules are a mixture of NFL and NCAA rules.
The two do lament that the highest profile league in women's football — the Legends Football League (formerly the Lingerie Football League) — de-emphasizes the football for more tawdry aspects. (The LFL claims in the 2013 season the uniform of football pads over bras and panties will be ditched for "performance apparel.")
"I know some of the players in that league," Liz said. "There are some very good athletes there, but it was formed for entertainment than to show off football skills. I'd rather pay money to do what I'm doing and keep my clothes on."
"I know that sex sells," Katie said. "I know there are some who don't appreciate women's athletics. A lot of people come to our games thinking they are going to see girls, but they come away watching football players."
The two will head for training camp with Team USA June 23 through 27 in Chicago and from there arrive in Finland. Team USA plays Sweden at 2 p.m. CDT June 30 and Germany at 10 a.m. July 4. Medal games are July 6.
The teams in the other pool are Canada, Finland and Spain. The U.S. is the defending champion, beating Canada 66-0 in the championship game in 2010 in Sweden.
"I don't think there is a whole lot of scouting," Katie said. "From what I know, Canada and America are the top two teams. We're not going to take anyone lightly. We're going there to represent the U.S. and to play as hard as we can."
When the football championships are over, Liz will be heading to Chula Vista, Calif., where she will have a residency for the U.S. National Rugby Sevens team, which is preparing for the 2016 Olympics.
"They started recruiting women from other sports such as women's football and basketball," Liz said. "They had seen me play football. I went to a training camp and was invited back. I move in August."
Rugby has similarities to football in the way teams score — touches (similar to the touchdown), conversion kicks after touches and drop kicks (rugby also has penalty kicks). The differences are a bigger, egg-shaped ball, continuous play, no forward passes and players don't wear pads.
"I accidently tried a football tackle and it didn't go very well," Liz said.