The Maine Mayhem women’s football team huddles during the 2019 season. McKenney Photography photo

TOPSHAM — The NFL has wrapped up its season but for the Maine Mayhem, the state’s only professional women’s football team, preparations for 2020 are underway.

The regular season opens in two months and the first home game will be Saturday, April 11, at Deering High School in Portland.

The athletes come from across the state and well-represented by those from the Oxford Hills region. They include Kristianna Heaward, Morgan Miles and ErinKate Morrison, all of Oxford, Kelly Martel and Samantha Aspinall, both of South Paris, Angelina Sanchez-Dow of Hebron and Emily Brzycki of Poland.

The Maine Mayhem, part of the Women’s Football Alliance, was founded in 2016. It is the third team based in Maine, the first being the Maine Freeze which ran from 2000 to 2006. The second, the Maine Rebels, was part of the discontinued Independent Women’s Football League between 2004 to 2013. Many of the Rebels joined the Mayhem.

In its first year the Mayhem was invited to the Independent Women’s Football League Affiliate Bowl and became Affiliate Bowl champions. In 2017, the team switched to the Women’s Football Alliance and has advanced to the playoffs twice.

Women’s professional football follows NCAA rules. Teams have 11 players and most take snaps on both defense and offense. The season runs 10 weeks: four away games, four home games and two bye weeks. This year, the Mayhem will split home games between Portland High School’s Fitzpatrick Stadium and Deering High School’s Memorial Stadium.

Oxford gals

Heaward and Aspinall are among the team’s longest-playing veterans.

Kristianna Heaward of Oxford stiff-arms her would-be tackler. Courtesy McKenney Photography

“I never played football,” Heaward said. “Through high school I was always soccer, softball and basketball. I loved soccer because I could slide-tackle people. But once I started football I found I could tackle, which was even better than slide tackling. I started with the Maine Rebels, before joining the Mayhem.”

Heaward’s enthusiasm for the team and for football in Maine is infectious. In addition to the Mayhem she is raising two kids, works full time as a patient services representative and referees boys’ high school football games.

Football was a major part of Aspinall’s life even before she began playing. The Mesquite, Nevada, native moved to Maine 19 years ago. Her sons played football and she became friends with their coach, Wayne. The two fell in love and married. With a blended brood of eight kids they can just about field their own team.

“I’d heard about the Rebels and I told Wayne that I was thinking about trying out,” Aspinall said. “He said, ‘do it.’ He brought me to the practices and started helping out with the team where he could. Eventually he became one of our coaches. And when I joined the Mayhem I brought him with me here.”

“Kristi and Alicia (Jeffords, Mayhem president and team captain), convinced me to play football,” said ErinKate Morrison, an Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School teacher who is starting her second season with the team. “I’d always played sportsI was a field hockey goalie, competed in track, and I played basketball in college. I’ve always been able to utilize my size in sports. And the minute they saw me, they were like, I saw it in their eyes. I play tackle on both sides of the ball.

ErinKate Morrison of Oxford tackles the ball carrier in 2019. McKenney Photography photo

“I didn’t compete (in sports) much after college and I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the team camaraderie that I get with the Mayhem. When you’re held accountable to teammates and something larger than yourself, it’s incredible,” she said.

Camaraderie is one of the main draws that keeps the women of the Mayhem playing.

“I love it about this team,” Heaward said. “I played on adult softball teams, things like that. They’re great but you won’t find anything like with football. We spend so much time together, practicing, game time, traveling. The team becomes your second family.”

Rookie Angelina Sanchez-Dow of Hebron agrees. She had no idea that she’d find herself playing football. She had tagged along with a friend who was trying out and they ended up on the team.

“I had never played in my life,” Sanchez-Dow said. “Being part of this team is so much fun. I absolutely fell in love with it.”

Kelly Martel of South Paris is the friend who convinced Sanchez-Dow to join the team.

“I went to a game to watch my friend Morgan (Miles) play,” Martel said. “I checked it out and she got me to go to tryouts and I just kept going with it.”

“When I tried out I thought I was gonna die,” said Miles, who lives in Oxford. “After just warming up, I thought ‘this sucks.’ But the team is very welcoming and supportive. They make you feel like a part of something special. Even though I’d always played sports, including ice hockey, the Mayhem camaraderie is special.”

Brzycki, a second-year player, of Poland was also lured to the football field by Miles.

“We were playing softball,” she said. “The guy running the team was there and he said to Morgan, ‘You need football players, get her.’ It sounded interesting and I hadn’t tried it before.

Emily Brzycki of Poland runs for a touchdown in 2019. McKenney Photography photo

“I joined and I got my two little sisters to come out too. It turned out I had a void and football has filled it. I didn’t even know. My sisters and I still talk about it. We were happy with life, we thought we were already stretched with our time. And now I can’t even imagine not playing. If you’ve grown up with competitive sports, you don’t even realize you’re missing it. It’s so rare to get it back. I feel lucky that we get to play in something that’s so much bigger than ourselves.”

Four tryouts are held between September and December.

Heaward said anyone who wants to play is welcomed.

The youngest player is 18 and several are in their mid-50s. The roster stands at 43; 10 are rookies and 15 are back for their second season.

“We have a pretty in depth playbook,” Heaward said. “It’s a lot to learn to quarterback but we have one rookie showing a lot of promise, she’s really stepped up to the plate and picked up a lot. There are a couple other players coming along, too. Sam’s got experience under her belt so she’s helping out at the position. They’re trying to figure out our starter.

“We haven’t had a ton of turnover since last season, but at the same time it’s hard on your body. We all have careers and families. Our kids are playing sports. At times some may have to give it up, but then they return. Retiring doesn’t mean forever.”

The Maine Mayhem practice in Topsham in January. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

Playing women’s professional football is not cheap. Players are responsible for field fees, their equipment and uniforms, and travel to away games. The team is set up as a 501(c)(3) and relies on individual and corporate sponsors to cover expenses. Corporate sponsorship has five levels. Players solicit individual support from family and friends.

“On paper we seem crazy,” Morrison said, adding has been successful at the sponsorship game.

“Last year I didn’t pay anything out of pocket. My school’s yearbook and athletic department gave me $500 for my airline ticket for the playoffs. I went to work Monday and said, ‘I’m going to Indiana Friday. I need a personal day and oh, I need $500 to get there.’ I got both.”

“The community really supports this team,” Heaward said. “Of the areas players come from, Oxford Hills really comes together when it’s time to support its athletes. Since we’re 501(c)(3) they get to write it off, but we also thank them with plaques, T-shirts, things they can display in their business.

“People can choose players to support from our website’s roster page by ordering game tickets and merchandise. We call it Money for Mayhem. In March we’ll run a special, you sponsor a player for $25 and you get two tickets and a T-shirt.”

Tickets for games in Portland are $8; children under age 12 get in for free. The 2020 schedule is at mainemayhemfootball.com/calendar.


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