VASSAR — In a spot known for players in orange and black, Vassar High School’s football stadium has become the home field for the purple and black – the team colors of the new Flint City Riveters women’s tackle football team.
The first-year team plays “home” games at Vassar High at 7 p.m. on May 7 and May 21.
“I don’t know much about Vassar, but I’m definitely so grateful that they let us use their field,” said Pam Parker of Melvindale in Wayne County, a wide receiver/free safety for the Riveters.
“Nobody seemed willing to help,” Parker said. “We called schools all over and Vassar was the only one that said ‘Hey, yeah, we can do this,’ and it’s not going to cost us $5,000 per game.” The Riveters compete as a Division 3 team affiliated with the Women’s Football Alliance, a women’s tackle football association with teams around the country. The West Michigan Mayhem travel to Vassar High to take on the Riveters on May 7. The game on May 21 brings the Toledo Reign to town.
Andrea Legue, Vassar High School athletic director, figures the two games will draw visitors to town.
“We just decided to help to bring some events into Vassar,” Legue said. “It’s nothing really to do with us, but I just figured ‘Hey, if it brought some people getting gas and bringing them to McDonald’s, at least it’s bringing some business to Vassar on a Saturday.’”
Students have embraced the idea of the Flint City Riveters playing in Vassar, according to Legue.
“There was a little bit of leeriness as far as why they weren’t able to find a school closer to them, at first, but all in all, the word has kind of gotten out with our kids, now, and our girls are really excited — like the (Vassar High) girls who have played the powder-puff football,” Legue said. “They really thought that was going to be neat to be able to come watch this.”
In powder-puff football, a defender “tackles” a player with the football by pulling a flag off the hip of the offensive player.
Legue said she’s not sure if the Riveters charge admission to the game, but noted there won’t be a concession stand.
“It kind of just sounded like they just needed a facility,” said Legue, who declined to say what Vassar Public Schools is receiving to rent the football facility.
“It’s just enough to cover expenses of our custodial staff, and just a little bit extra,” Legue said. “We’re just doing it more as a service.”
Dan Bunnell of Flint Township, general manager of the Riveters, said the players and their fans will spend money around Vassar.
“Our crowd is growing each game,” Bunnell said. “It’s family and friends, and some hear about it from publicity, or through Facebook, of course.”
Bunnell’s wife, Jen Bunnell, plays defensive tackle for the Riveters, who have been hampered by injuries this season. The Flint team has played two games, losing 52-0 to the Detroit Dark Angels and 30-6 to the Indy Crush.
“We had one girl dislocate her knee, another one break her finger and a couple have got concussions,” Bunnell said. “The fans in Vassar will definitely see some hard-hitting action, that’s for sure. There’s blocking and there’s tackling.”
The Riveters chose to forfeit a third game on Saturday when only 11 players were healthy enough to suit up against an opponent with 42 players.
“There was no way that 11 of us could take on 42 girls,” said Parker, who joined with teammates Louise Ogadinma and Roxy Connell to found the Riveters. A Division 3 team such as the Riveters has less than 25 players. The squad faces several opponents this season in higher divisions, with more players.
Flint City has added several players recently, though, and still seeks recruits. Prospects may contact the squad at the “Flint City Riveters” Facebook page. Fans of the team also may order Riveters apparel by visiting the Facebook page.
Players come from the Detroit, Flint and Lansing areas, though free safety Jessica Keeler is a Clio resident. Parker, 22, said the Riveters receive no salaries, and must buy their own equipment.
“We definitely get a lot of looks … when you walk into a store,” Parker said. “I got a lot of questions last year (when buying football equipment). I asked ‘Where is your football section?’ and they would look at me and say ‘Do you have a kid that plays football?’ I’m like ‘No, I don’t look that old, for one. And two, this is for me.’
“They would just give me these looks. And I’m, like, ‘Yeah, I play tackle football.’ They make fun of a lot of us, too. Our girls on our team aren’t big girls. We’re strong and everybody’s dedicated so we can compete with the girls who weigh 200 pounds more than us. But my shoulder pads are tight. I wear a ‘kids small’ size. I get a lot of looks. They say ‘You play football and you’re wearing a kids small size shoulder pads right now?’”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer at The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org