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More than the leader of a team

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The divide between boys and girls sports is slowly changing and with that comes new opportunities. For the first time in the Swan Valley Tigers Football Team’s history, there is a female quarterback and she’s more than ready to take the challenge head-on.
Annalisa Ellingson is seventeen years old, in Grade 12 and making the most of her graduating year as a quarterback for the Tigers. It comes as no surprise that she’s a natural-born leader for the team.
“Anyone who knows the Ellingsons, knows that our family is very involved in the football world,” said Ellingson.
“I have been a part of the Tiger’s team since before I could walk, because of my dad’s involvement as a coach. I grew up watching football and playing in the backyard with my dad and sister, but I never thought I would be able to actually play on a team.
“I started playing football competitively when I was 13. It all started when I was playing catch with my dad in our backyard, and he suggested that I should come play quarterback for the junior varsity team. I thought he was joking at first, but he was serious, and I decided that it would be fun to try it out. I’ve always liked watching football, but the thought that I could actually play had never occurred to me before then.
“I started playing for the junior varsity Tigers in Grade 8. I had just always assumed that I wouldn’t be allowed to play with the boys, or that my parents wouldn’t want me to risk getting injured. It turns out that I was wrong.”
Ellingson has been playing football for five years now and has gained a lot of experience playing for other teams out of the Valley.
She was hopeful that the Tigers would be able to establish an all-female football team, but COVID-19 had not only taken away a season of play but that opportunity as well.
“I’ve been playing football for five years and this is my fourth year with the senior varsity Tigers,” said Ellingson. “I’ve played for three different teams, both co-ed and female. I had the opportunity to play three seasons with an all-girls team in Melville, Sask. and from that was able to participate in the Red River Cup, the first U18 inter-provincial tackle football tournament for girls in Canada.
“Seeing the growth in girls’ football in just three years since those events has been so inspiring. What started out, as a home-and-home set of two games between Melville and Moosomin, is now a league of five different teams in Saskatchewan. We had hoped to join them last year with our very own girls’ team in the Valley, but unfortunately, COVID-19 prevented us from doing so. We’re hoping to get that team off the ground this coming spring, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that as a veteran player.
“I hope to encourage girls to not be afraid to push the boundaries of male-dominated sports,” said Ellingson. “Football was never a sport that I saw myself playing, simply because I didn’t see many women in football. If my presence on the field does nothing more than show girls that it is possible for them to play too, then that’s enough for me. My hope for the future is that there won’t have to be any more firsts and that girls will have just as many opportunities as boys to compete in their own leagues in whatever sport they want to play.”
Ellingson is glad to see more girls on the football field than before, but still appreciates her male teammates that show her respect on and off the field. She hopes that being the first female quarterback for the Tigers will motivate other girls to try out for the team in the future.
“While I have been the only female player in the past, I’m not the only one this year,” said Ellingson. “While I prefer playing on an all-girls team, I don’t mind playing with the boys. My teammates, this year, are a great group of guys and treat me with nothing but respect. There are some physical disadvantages I face when playing against boys, but I think I hold my own pretty well. Being smaller and not as strong or fast is a challenge, but it forces me to push myself to be the best athlete I can be.
“I mainly play quarterback now but have played a little bit of running back in Melville and on the junior varsity team. I definitely prefer quarterback to other positions I’ve tried. It’s a little bit nerve-wracking to be the senior quarterback for the Tigers this year, but I’m excited for what our season holds. We have a pretty strong team this year and I’m looking forward to the achievements we could make. It’s a huge honour to be the first female quarterback in Tigers’ history, and of course, I feel a little bit of extra pressure with that, but my biggest hope is that I’m not the last.”
Swan Valley Tigers Football Coach Justin Petelski has known Ellingson since she was a baby and has also seen her progress from the start of her football career and knows she’s destined to succeed on the field.
“I’ve coached with her dad for years, been family friends even longer and known Annalisa since the day she was born,” said Petelski. “What I didn’t know until later on is that she shared the same love of football as her dad. The first time I saw her catch and throw a football, would have been at a high school practice that she was there watching the kids because her dad was there coaching.
“I’m not sure she started out wanting to be a quarterback, but she’s smart, understands football and the concepts, so it made sense for her to take on the role. I know when she played with Melville’s girl's team a few years ago, she played multiple positions including running back.
“Ellingson has a desire to get better all the time, to do what it takes to win and be the best teammate possible," he continued. "I believe she truly cares about her team and wants what’s best for them. Just like all my grade 12's, I want her to have a great season, learn a lot, keep getting better every game and wish that she will have an opportunity to win a championship in the last game. I’m not sure if she plans on playing football after high school, but I know she will take all the lessons she learned from the game wherever she goes. I was just happy to be a small part of her journey. She’s an amazingly good football player and an even better person.”
When it comes to playing football, there are so many things about the game that Ellingson loves. With each play and game, she increases her knowledge and skillset on the field. She has goals that she’s working towards personally and some she hopes to help the team achieve as a whole.
“I think the thing that I love most about football is the strategy behind it,” said Ellingson. “I love the mental aspect of the game. There’s so much thought and planning put into every play that the coaches design and I think it’s so cool. I also love the inclusiveness of the game. There are so many different skill sets required that there’s a place for almost every type of person on a football team.
“I think my understanding and love of the game has definitely increased, and while there are still a lot of things I don’t know, every time I learn something new, I like the sport more and more. My ability to get the ball to where it needs to go has also improved drastically over the last few years. Passing plays can be hard for me to complete because I am short and can’t always see as well as a taller quarterback, but my coaches have designed certain plays to help me achieve that.
“Something I want to work on this year is improving my knowledge of the game from every position on the field,” said Ellingson.
“As a veteran player, I want to be able to help my newer teammates when they have questions about their position. I would also like to improve my speed and be able to get the ball to my teammates faster.
With this season resuming after a hiatus due to the pandemic, Ellingson is excited to watch the team grow and hopes to achieve an undefeated record again this season.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how we develop as a team this season,” said Ellingson. “We lost a lot of players since our last season but gained a lot of skilled new players. I’m hoping that we can maintain the undefeated record we held last season. I think it would be so cool to be able to win the championship again this year. “
Even though Ellingson herself is an inspiration for girls in the Valley to take up male dominant sports, she has had some strong role models and supports backing her up, every step of the way.
“A huge inspiration for me is definitely my family,” said Ellingson. “My parents have been my biggest supporters in my football pursuits so far. My parents have given me nothing but support in my football pursuits over the last five years, and I’m thankful for that. Watching the growth of girls’ football over the last few years and getting to be involved in that has also been very inspiring for me.”