As a young girl, Leah Crump was interested in football, but playing it was always out of the question.
“My whole life I wanted to play, but my mom said ‘no’ because she was afraid I was going to get hurt,” she said.
When Crump saw a new women’s football team forming in Harrisburg, she jumped at the opportunity to join. Of course, Crump is an adult now, so her mom couldn’t tell her ‘no,’ she said.
Crump was one of many rookies to join the Harrisburg Havoc women’s tackle football team, finally finding a place to participate in a sport that has largely left women on the sidelines. The team has been practicing for months and is gearing up for its first season on the field, starting April 9.
Harrisburg Havoc is part of the Women’s Football Alliance, the nation’s largest full-contact women’s football league. The Harrisburg team is one of 67 across the country.
While the team has many rookies, it also has a number of experienced football players.
Kaeli Thomas played flag football from ages 6 to 18 and, from there, started playing in leagues. For a while, she was part of the former local WFA team, Keystone Assault, which disbanded during the pandemic.
From there, Thomas and her mom Tiffany decided to start a new team.
“I just wasn’t done playing the sport,” she said.
It wasn’t hard to start assembling a team, Thomas said. Plenty of women jumped at the opportunity to play. The team now has a roster of 41 players, ranging in age from 21 to 49 years old. Players come from Harrisburg, as well as surrounding cities and states like Philadelphia, Lancaster, Allentown and Maryland, among others.
“Getting people wasn’t the hard part,” she said. “The hard part was getting people to take us seriously.”
For their first game, the Harrisburg Havoc will face off against the New York Knockout from Albany, N.Y. It will be a home game, played on the Kreiser-Hallman field at Lower Dauphin Middle School in Hummelstown. All of their home games will take place on that field at 6 p.m.
The team is led by a handful of male coaches from Harrisburg who have experience playing football and coaching. Michael Chism, or “Coach Chiz,” is the head coach, assisted by Lanthus Whiteside, Antoine Strong, Corey Jett II and John Balkcom.
The women have been training since the summer, as well as attending local events, parades and fundraisers to spread the word of their program. So far, they’ve received a lot of support from their city, Thomas said. She is eager to see those fans in the stands at their first game.
Crump, who will play her first official football game ever next week, is feeling a mix of emotions.
“I’m nervous,” she said. “It doesn’t feel real. But, I’m ready to show off my talents. It’s amazing. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to play football.”
Tiffany is confident in their ability to win, advance to the playoffs and even compete in the championship game, which would allow the team to play at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio.
“Our mission is to empower women, to let them know that whatever they put their minds to, they can do,” she said.
That mission is already spreading, as Harrisburg Havoc players like Crump and Thomas are mentoring young girls that play football.
“I want to let little girls know that it’s OK to play football,” Crump said. “I want to have little kids look up to me.”
The team’s regular season runs through May 28, unless they advance to playoffs. They may be a new team to the league this year, but they’re ready to compete.
“It’s been blood, sweat and tears,” Thomas said. “But it’s all going to be worth it. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal—to bring that ring home to Harrisburg.”
For more information on Harrisburg Havoc and their 2022 season schedule, visit their website.
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