Atlanta Xplosion vs. Dallas Diamonds
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: James R. Hallford Stadium, Decatur
Tickets: $10; 678-395-4465
Web site: www.atlantaxplosion.com
There’s nothing extraordinary about the way Onetha Cannon starts her week. Her’s is the same routine as millions of other post-college 20-somethings.
Wake up. Monday morning commute. At work by 9 a.m. Out by 6. Film study/football practice at 7.
Wait, back up. What was that last part again?
Cannon, more commonly known as Lee Lee, has followed her athletic career from the basketball courts of White County High School to Cumberland University to a women’s professional basketball league in Slovakia. But her most recent stop might be her most unexpected.
Three nights a week, and every weekend from April through June, the 5-foot-7 personal trainer takes her place 7 yards deep in the backfield of the Atlanta Xplosion, a full-contact women’s football team in its seventh year of competition.
And she does it pro bono. As in there’s no check in mail. As in for free.
That’s not to say that the players aren’t treated well. They have chartered flights and buses for away games, but none of the women are compensated for their service. Football, for them, is purely an extra-curricular activity.
For the love of the game is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot, but for the women who compete in the Independent Women’s Football League there’s no other way to explain their devotion.
"You really have to love it," Cannon said. "If you didn’t, you’d be miserable. It wouldn’t make any sense.
"You have to love the game."
And they do.
Football is such a priority for Courtney White, an East Hall grad who plays on the offensive and defensive line for the Xplosion, that when her job sought to transfer her, her only stipulation was that she be near another women’s football team. And when they couldn’t quite accommodate her, she still found a way to play.
After picking up full-contact football in Maine, work took her to Anderson, S.C. Only one problem, there’s no women’s team there. So White bought a house in her hometown of Gainesville, and now she drives an hour and half to work everyday, and three nights a week turns around and drives two hours into Atlanta for practice.
How’s that for dedication?
And they’re good, too. The Xplosion won the IWFL National Championship in 2006 and just fell short of a repeat in 2007. This year they’re off to a 3-0 start, winning their first three games by a combined score of 109-13. Cannon is one of team’s top offensive threats. She rushed nine times for 113 yards and two touchdowns in a 43-0 win over Clarksville in Week 1, and last week, in a 28-6 win over Chattanooga, she returned a punt for a touchdown.
But it’s not easy to convince people that girls can play real football.
"When I first tell guys to come to the game they’re like, ‘What, do y’all have flowers on your helmet?’" Cannon said. "But when they actually come see how we play, they’re surprised by how competitive it is, and they always want to come back."
White said she’s recruited former East Hall classmates on Facebook to come see her play.
"It’s actually been really cool. Everybody’s been really interested in it." she said. "I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there about women’s football. Is it going to be as tough as real football, as tough as what you see on TV. They don’t really believe that we’re that caliber of athlete. But every single person that I’ve asked, you know, ‘what did you think?’ Every one of them has said, ‘whoa, that was way more intense than I thought it was going to be. You guys hit hard.’"
And it’s not a gimmick. It’s not a sideshow act.
It’s the genuine article, and the women that play "get it" as purely as anyone can.
"There’s nothing else like it," White said. "If ever there was a sport that was made for me, football is it."
Why is that?
"There is absolutely nothing in the whole world like running up to somebody full force and going into them with your shoulder and laying them out," White said. "There’s nothing like it. You just can’t beat that feeling."
See what I mean?
Brent Holloway is the sports editor of The Times. His column appears Fridays.