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The wind was from the east, the opposition was from the west, and the temperature was just plain freezing Saturday on Long Island when the New York Sharks took on the Minnesota Minx in their first Women's Professional Football League (WPFL) game.
The Sharks, coached by ex-Jet Bobby Jackson, had started practicing only two months before the contest, which would be their first and last of the season. Despite obvious game-day jitters (it could also have been 20-degree windchill shivers), the Sharks came away with a decisive 12-0 victory over their more experienced foes. The Minnesota team, coached by former Viking defensive back John "JT" Turner, was actually an all-star squad composed of players from the Vixens and the WPFL's other charter team, the Lake Michigan Minx.
The Vixens and Minx have been on a five-game "No Limits" Barnstorming Tour through the Midwest since October to promote the WPFL and sell the public on women's tackle football. With actual league play scheduled to start next fall, the WPFL hopes to have at least six teams at the start of the 2000 season.
The WPFL is the brainchild of Carter Turner, the owner of the St. Paul Pigs arena football team, and Terry Sullivan, who developed the Mid-America Football League. Team CEO Turner and President Sullivan say that the 90 Vixens and Minx players will be compensated through a profit-sharing system at the end of the seasonif there is a profit. And, it appears, if this venture works out better than their previous ones.
Turner and Sullivan both have pasts littered with the remains of failed Minnesota sports franchises in which they have been involved. Sullivan and his promotional company, World-Wide Sports, reportedly owe over $40,000 to various individuals and companies across the state. Turner, meanwhile, was reportedly involved in two failed arena football teams and a troubled basketball franchise. (Turner has also been twice convicted of felony assault and once for burglary, but that seems like the typical rap sheet for sports folks these days.)
None of the 300 or so people in the stands in Uniondale's Mitchel Field knew this, of course, and it's doubtful that they or the players on the gridiron would have really cared. The thrill of actually playing on a real football field with real officials, a real crowd, and wearing full equipment seemed like compensation enough. Jacqueline Colon, the 5-foot running back who started the Sharks and cajoled Jackson into coaching the team, still hopes that someone will pony up the $50,000 required for the Sharks to become a full league member. Compared to playing the game, however, financing the team might be the easy part.
The Sharks didn't quite seem to know what to do with themselves on the field or on the sidelines until almost halfway through Saturday's contest. Most of the play took place within the middle 40 yards and rarely reached the sidelines. There were plenty of sacks, fumbles, and misfires. Catching the ball was a major liability for each team, so the Sharks' Jackson made the wise choice of turning to a running game while, for some reason, the Vixens' Turner kept calling pass plays.
Although what the Sharks lacked in skill they made up for in enthusiasm, the team finished with a strong defensive game and completed some beautiful plays: a 70-yard touchdown reception by running back Natalie Jufer, and a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Val Halesworth to wide receiver Valerie Monaco. Said Jackson, "I thought they played great and I was pleased to see that it all came together."
Standing around after the game in a bloodstained jersey, Halesworthwhose exploits were loudly cheered by her students from Oyster Bay High School, where she is a physical education teachersaid, "It's crazy, you get so pumped up out there. I never thought I'd throw the winning pass in a football game. I hope it [next season] happens. Imagine what we could have done if we'd had more practice."