When the Las Vegas–based Lingerie Football League announced, in mid-April, that it would be starting up an expansion team in Toronto, the “lingerie” aspect of the thing was what immediately began to capture media attention. But when Charlotte Cameron heard the news, her take was different. The operative words, for her, were “football” and “league.”
The LFL held tryouts Saturday on a dome-covered astroturf soccer field at Polson Pier. Cameron stood on the sideline between drills. A tall, slender 21-year-old with brown hair held up and out of the way in a purple scrunchie, she was wearing a close approximation of the league’s standard uniform: a bra and a pair of skin-tight short shorts, and not very much else.
Cameron has been interested in football for years, and in fact got herself added to the boys’ team roster when she was still a student at Leaside High School. She ran practices, but on only one occasion that she can recall did her coaches allow her on-field during a game. “We were winning by a lot,” she said.
She isn’t bothered by the league’s dress code: “No, I think it’s great. I think it’s fucking awesome. Who cares?”
The fact that the two-seasons-old league doesn’t offer its players salaries is perhaps a little harder to swallow. “They’re at least paying for us to travel,” she said. “Lack of pay is pretty shitty, but we’re gonna work on that.” An LFL contract obtained by The Smoking Gun says winning teams divide a 20 per cent cut of ticket sales between members of their active rosters, including coaches. The losing team gets 10 per cent.
Presiding over the tryouts was the league’s founder, Mitch Mortaza, a skinny guy in gym shorts and an LFL-branded tee who clearly is a believer in the “mean gym coach” style of athlete motivation. “If you’re gonna do this, keep your mouth shut and compete,” he advised the hundred-odd women who’d shown up at the dome, all of whom he’d gathered in a circle at his feet for a pre-warm-up pep talk—if such talk can be said to constitute pep.
The way the tryout worked was that Mortaza and about half a dozen other coaches—some of them former CFL players who, like the women, were there to investigate the possibility of taking positions with the league—put the hopefuls through some tests to determine their basic football competency. It wasn’t long before they’d identified those who could throw, run, and tackle properly. (Even an amateur can tell who has an arm and who doesn’t.) These individuals they pulled aside for more careful evaluation. Each potential player had a number Sharpied on a shoulder, to make her easy to identify.
Charlotte Cameron blocks and tackles Saturday afternoon at the LFL tryouts.
Rob Ford’s niece, Krista (dressed modestly in a blue sleeveless shirt and tagged with the number 15), tackled the absolute shit out of some training bags and will probably make a great linebacker.
Number 11 was Marife Villagonzalo, whom the coaches quickly recognized for her powerful throwing arm. She explained to us that her skill with the pigskin was no fluke; she’s been playing touch football since 1993, and currently does so with Touch Football Ontario, an amateur league with women’s and co-ed divisions.
Unlike some of the other hopefuls, Villagonzalo was dressed in a practical orange jersey. At 38—and there is absolutely no polite way to put this, but it’s a salient point in view of the league’s well-publicized preference for young, lithe bodies—she might have been the oldest person on the field other than Mortaza and some of the coaches.
“We think if we get a good team together, some of the fans will go from watching the girls to watching the game,” she said. Around 10 other players from the touch football league, she added, had come to try out.
About the League’s uniforms, she was circumspect: “It’s unfortunate that women have to wear almost nothing to play.” That is, to play tackle football competitively. Which isn’t entirely true.
There are at least two active women’s tackle football leagues where players wear full-body uniforms and padding: the Independent Women’s Football League and the Women’s Football Alliance. But playing for either of them can be difficult. Executives from the Anarchy, an Orlando, Florida, WFA team, told their local newsweekly that players actually pay about $1,000 per season to compete, just to cover costs.
That figure would vary from team to team, but the point is that whatever else may be true about the LFL, it has the means to attract the two things other women’s football leagues struggle with: eyeballs and money. It also appears to be the only semi-professional women’s tackle league currently fielding a team in Ontario.
After more than three hours of tryouts, Mortaza called a huddle with the coaches and a woman named Heather Theisen, who had been introduced to us as the league’s talent coordinator. Then, Mortaza began to read off the numbers of the 35 women who had been selected to attend a four-day trial camp. The camp is the next—but not the final—step in securing a spot on the 20-member team.
Cameron and Rob Ford’s niece are both going to camp, but Villagonzalo isn’t. All three stood out in the trials. Mortaza didn’t articulate any reasons for his choices.
The team, which will be known as the “Toronto Triumph,” is scheduled to play its first game at Ricoh Coliseum on September 17.
Photos by Corbin Smith/Torontoist.