Professional football player and Miami Township
firefighter Laura Kerr with Fire Chief Colin Altman, Assistant Chief
Hope Robbins and firefighter Sara Zimmerman-Crockett. Kerr plays
middle linebacker for the Columbus Flames.
tackles pro football
Clad in a parka and sipping a soda in a local coffeehouse, Laura Kerr
appears to be just another Yellow Springs resident enjoying her Saturday
morning in town. But as she settles in and discards the parka, Kerr reveals
the physique of a professional athlete.
Not just any athlete, Kerr says. Im a professional
Its not that Kerr has something against other sports she
played volleyball, soccer, basketball, track and soccer in high school
and college its just that for her, theres something
special about football.
I love the hitting. There is something unique about the collisions
that take place on the football field, she said.
As the middle linebacker
and captain of the defense for the Columbus Flames, an expansion team
in the National Womens Football Association, Kerr will be doing
plenty of hitting when the season begins this April. Columbus was awarded
the Flames franchise last April when the fledgling league, which was then
called the NWFL, expanded from 22 to 31 teams.
The Flames started practicing last August, and to hear Kerr tell it, it
has become almost unbearable waiting for the first game. Everyone
on the team has worked so hard, and were tired of beating each other
up; we want to beat up on somebody else for a change, she said.
Kerr said she first heard about the Flames when a friend told her about
an advertisement for open tryouts. Two days later Kerr was one of one-hundred
hopefuls running sprints and agility drills in front of Flames head coach,
Hank Paterson. Kerr says that when she was asked to join the Flames she
knew she would make the sacrifices necessary to be part of the team.
Time, sacrifices, duties
Everybody there is giving up something big. Most of us have full-time
jobs, so time, be it away from family, a career, school or other sports,
is usually our biggest sacrifice, she said.
Kerr must attend three practices and a chalk talk session
each week, work as a full-time firefighter and paramedic in Fairborn and
volunteer as a firefighter and paramedic for Miami Township Fire-Rescue.
According to Kerr, the players must also dedicate time to marketing the
team and the league. Money is really tight with the team. We dont
get a salary, just a percentage of ticket sales. We dont have a
seasons sales to start from so we have to seek out sponsors to cover
the cost of the equipment, Kerr said.
During the season, we have to cover the costs of the busses and
hotel rooms, too, she said.
When asked how she manages to find time for everything, Kerr said, I
have scheduled this years vacation time around the games and practices
during the season. I dont think Ill have to miss any practices.
While Kerr admits that she is giving up a lot of time to play football,
she points out that she is not alone. She also says her sacrifices seem
minor when she thinks about the reward of being able to play professional
I played football all the time growing up, but because I never had
the chance to play on an organized team, I never really thought of myself
as football player. The moment I made the team I knew I was a football
player, Kerr said.
Kerr, who sees herself as an ambassador for the game, says she hopes the
Flames will be able to encourage younger female athletes to think about
playing football. I would be honored to open doors for young women,
she said. I am proud of the way I live my life and I would be proud
to be a role model.
Despite all of these concerns, Kerr still feels that her biggest commitment
is to her teammates on the field.
There is a unique camaraderie about football. Thats why we
play. That camaraderie is based on everybody being able to count on everybody
else to show up and play hard, so my first priority is being there for
my teammates on the field, she said. Its a beautiful
thing to see 11 players working together and executing.
Playing the game
At first, Flames practices were slow-paced and focused on fundamentals.
Of the 53 women on the team, only two had played organized football before,
so despite their deep and varied backgrounds, nearly all the players had
to learn the game. It seems like we had to learn everything, what
the positions are, what they do and how they work together, Kerr
said. And that was just the beginning. Then we had to learn techniques,
formations and a playbook.
By the time Kerr sat for an interview last month, she was already talking
like a savvy veteran who has been around the game for years. The Flames,
she said, will be a smashmouth team, especially on defense.
Kerr seems more than physically prepared for the challenge of professional
football. Kerr says she has always been physically fit, but firefighting
has given her the stamina and strength to be prepared for the games
intense physical training.
Kerr says that her firefighting experience will help in other areas of
the game too. Theres nothing like the adrenaline rush you
get when you run into a burning building. Firefighting has helped me to
learn how to manage that adrenaline, she said. Hopefully I
will be able to use that skill to help me maintain my composure on the
As the defensive captain, Kerr will have to stay level-headed on the field.
She will be responsible for calling out the defensive plays and formations
to her teammates, which means she must make sure everybody will be in
the right place at the right time.
The image of the sport
For Kerr, the pressures of football do not end with the on-the-field demands
of executing assignments, managing teammates and knocking opposing running
backs into next week.
For some reason, many people still do not think women can be capable football
players, and many assume that all women who play physically demanding
sports are lesbians.
The league is trying hard to fight against the image of physical
female athletes as lesbians. Its a position I understand, but not
necessarily one I agree with, said Kerr.
On the field there is no sexuality, no religion and no skin color.
There are just players making plays; I would like to think the league
could just focus on that, said Kerr.
A future in football?
When asked about her future in football, Kerr thinks first of the league.
I am optimistic that the league will continue to develop slowly.
There isnt a lot of support for womens sports right now, but
were going to be on local TV this year, and cable next year,
she said. If we can put a good product on the field, maybe our support
will grow more quickly.
Kerr says she loves Yellow Springs and would eventually like to own a
farmhouse on the outskirts of town. But she could be tempted to leave
if she had a chance to support herself playing football.
If something progressed to the point where I could make a living
playing football, I would go there to play. I dont really see that
happening, but if it did I dont know how I could turn it down,
Even if it were just enough to scrape by, if someone offered Laura Kerr
a job playing football, one could bet that she would take it. She loves
the game too much not to.