Richmond women’s football team heading to championship

7/22/2016, 1:42 p.m.
The Richmond Black Widows were born last August with a “want ad” seeking female football players on Meetup.com. A dozen …
The Richmond Black Widows practice hard at St. Joseph’s Villa last week to get ready for the WFA championship game Saturday in Pittsburgh.

The Richmond Black Widows were born last August with a “want ad” seeking female football players on Meetup.com.

A dozen or so curious women showed up for the first meeting, and a spark was lit.

Then those women told their friends.

Word spread. Now, less than a year after their social networking origins, the Richmond Black Widows are on the threshold of a national championship.

The Widows, many with hair tucked under black helmets, will face Acadiana Zydeco of Opelousas, La., on Friday, July 22, for the Tier 3 title of the full contact Women’s Football Alliance (WFA).

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh.

The Widows are 6-3 in their maiden season after defeating Keystone Assault, Md., 14-8 in a June 25 semifinal playoff at Virginia Union University’s Hovey Field.

Wearing red and black uniforms, the Widows, under Coach Bill Donati, had Hovey Field home dates with the Philadelphia Phantomz, the DC Divas, the Tri-Cities Thunder (Tenn.) and most recently the Assault. Road trips were to play Tri-Cities, Fayetteville Fierce (North Carolina), Philadelphia and Assault.

The Widows are traveling as a team via Groome Transportation for the title game in Pittsburgh.

Among the standouts is Shanice Cole, who starts at wide receiver and defensive end.

Cole sparkled in basketball and softball at Highland Springs High School and became a standout basketball player at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., where she led the NCAA Division I team in scoring and rebounding as a senior in 2010.

Along the way, she yearned to play football, but opportunity never knocked until hearing about the Widows.

“Once I came out, it was all I expected – and more,” Cole said.

Asked about “and more,” she said:

“I really didn’t think the women would hit as hard as they do.”

Asked if she returned the favor with a few determined blows of her own, she nodded politely.

Widows player April

Bryant, a receiver/defensive back with the team and a soldier at Fort Lee, is among WFA leaders with 60 tackles and four interceptions.

The Widows’ quarterback, now commuting from Chicago, is quicksilver Katelyn Wright, who has passed for 407 yards and eight touchdowns.

“I love absolutely everything – the adrenalin rush, camaraderie, the frustration, the mental and physical aspect; it’s my outlet,” Wright said about playing with the team.

Some of the players have extensive athletic resumes. Others don’t.

“We’ve got ’em from every walk of life,” said the Widows assistant Coach Brian West, a former L.C. Bird High School football star.

“We’ve got military, girls that have played all kinds of sports and some that never played anything.”

There is no fee to join the team; the players however, must furnish their own helmets and shoulder pads. Coach Donati, who has helped coach Goochland High School to the state Group A championship in 2012, says the Widows are no one-year wonder.

“This season, we didn’t make any cuts,” he said. “Anyone who came out got to play. In the future, I’m thinking there may be cuts as interest grows.

“These are women who were never allowed to play. Now that they have the chance, they love it.”

There are no size requirements. Widows players range from more than 200 pounds down to 109-pound Charlie Gold.

“I tried to play football in high school and the coach laughed at me — no girls on his team,” said Gold, who went to J.R. Tucker High School.

“Here’s to you, coach.”