Created early this year when the original Albuquerque team, the New Mexico Venom, switched ownership and coaches, the Santa Fe Dukes, New Mexico’s only all-female, full-contact football team, had a pretty even slate of wins and losses throughout the season. Yet they play for the joy of it more than the wins.
"Once I went to the first practice, I was hooked," Peggy Kossman, a former Santa Fe resident, says.
The Dukes, who currently practice in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque, strive to be an inclusive football team, welcoming members regardless of experience level.
"They either have no experience, all experience, some, a bit of everything," team owner Alicia Quintana says. "We're all learning together."
Quintana came on board after the team changed from being the Venoms and has been enjoying her new role at the helm of their schedule, recruiting and fundraising. "It's a lot, but it's fun. We do it for all these girls," she says.
The players come from a variety of backgrounds, professions and situations, such as Channda Mitchell. A senior at UNM, Mitchell hopes to one day become a social worker and is in the Army ROTC. "I've always loved sports," she says.
Mitchell, No. 24, has played football with guys before but prefers women's football, because her teammates aren't scared to get really rough with each other. "Playing with women, they have more sportsmanship," she says. "You get to take out your aggression, but they're still human; you don't get to treat them bad."
Most of the ladies look like they could pummel anyone into the ground, which No. 13, Rachel Wolff, reinforces by laughing as she says that her favorite part of football is "hitting people."
In addition to playing regular games, the Dukes also have done charity scrimmages, like a recent one at CNM in Albuquerque, where they introduced their new charity team name: Strawberries and Cream. Inspired by the Lobo's cherry and silver colors, the teams played against each other in red and white jerseys to raise money for the Agora Crisis Center.
Jenn Brown, the outreach coordinator for the center, was pleased to see the all-female football team supporting the center and giving back to the community. "The more we work to break gender stereotypes, the better off we all are," Brown says.
Sexism against the team by all-male football teams doesn't seem to be an issue. The Dukes report fair treatment and support, except for a recent incident where they were forced to forfeit a game when a men's team booted them off the field.
The children of the players also are supportive of their mothers' passion. Kossman's 5-year-old daughter, Santyana, says that her favorite part of football is watching her mom play. "It's pretty awesome," she giggles shyly.
Jennifer Chapin, a commissioner for the New Mexico Female Football League, says she is pleased with how well the team members juggle their commitment to the sport, along with their regular lives.
"It's the same as every other team; the difference is that they're all mothers, they have careers, they work. There's that challenge," Chapin says. "They really put their all into it, and they're here because they want to be."
For some, playing with the team is a form of therapy and self-reflection, like Johanna Arvizo, who was inspired to play football after her mother passed away. "It was time for me to do something for me," Arvizo, a mother of three, says. "I had to do something that made me happy."
Like everyone on the team, Arvizo is hugely supportive of her teammates.
"I love playing with all these girls; they're strong players, they're smart, they're human, a lot of them are parents," she says during a recent simulated game, beaming from a challenging first half. "The one thing I take pride in with our team is we play the beautiful game by the rules, the way it's meant to be played. Fairness, by the rules."
Although many of the women agree that balancing work, family time and the team can be strenuous, it's a worthwhile endeavor."It's been a roller coaster but worth every minute of it," Arvizo says.
On the afternoon of June 6, the team took home the gold in a 12-6 win against the Amarillo Lady Punishers. But when the quality of the team players is considered, the win is easily explainable. Besides being skilled football players, they are all super girls who make up a super team.
"Receiving the trophy was not the true evidence of winning that day," a proud Quintana says. "The expressions of the players, the positivity around us and how happy everyone was, jumping with excitement, hugging, yelling and celebrating was priceless. That showed the truth of how close of a family we are."