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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- After hours, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Campus Police Officer Theresa Gomes exchanges her uniform for an outfit that offers a little more protection -- the shoulder pads, helmet and mouth guard of a professional football player.
The 25-year-old Newton resident plays linebacker for the New England Storm, one of 11 teams in the Women's Professional Football League (WPFL), started in 1999. The Providence-based Storm is #1 in the Eastern region of the WPFL's National Conference and will go on to play the Daytona Beach Barracudas, the southern region leader, in Florida on December 16. The winner of that contest will play in the first WPFL championship game in Daytona Beach on January 13.
The league plays by National Football League (NFL) rules but uses a youth-size ball that fits women's hands better than the regulation-size NFL ball. The gear is all made for men, though, which means the shoulder pads don't fit as well as they could, said the 5-foot-6-inch, 167-pound Ms. Gomes, a 1997 graduate of Brandeis who joined the MIT Campus Police in March 1999.
While this is her first year to play professionally, the Wareham, MA, native has been playing tackle football since she was a kid, mostly with her brother and boys in the neighborhood. "I was bigger than most of them at that time," she said, but pickup games were the only kind she knew for years. Organized leagues like the Pop Warner League didn't allow girls. "They wouldn't let me play. I had to be the watergirl," she said. She played community softball and basketball instead, and in high school joined the field hockey, basketball and soccer teams.
The Storm played its first game on October 14, just one week after receiving their pads. They made the switch from touch football to tackle football in a few short days.
The five coaches are men; the 45 players are women displaying a wide range of skill and experience, according to Ms. Gomes. "We don't do it full time; we all have full-time jobs."
The team plays games on Sundays and practices two evenings a week plus Saturdays. Players earn $100 a game, to be paid at the end of the season. The Storm plays in Mt. Pleasant Stadium in Providence. General admission is $18, student and VIP rates are available.
Other WPFL teams are the New York Sharks, the New York Galaxy, the Tampa Tempest, the Miami Fury, the Colorado Valkyries, the Minnesota Vixens, the Austin Rage, the Houston Energy and the Oklahoma City Wildcats.