Going for Gold
The sport that citizens of the United States refer to as “soccer” is called football practically everywhere else. Right now, the largest soccer tournament in the world, the World Cup, is being played in South Africa. This Sunday, the 2010 IFAF Women’s World Championship, the first and arguably the biggest football tournament in the world, begins in Sweden and Sally Maple, a former Peachtree City resident and graduate of McIntosh High School is on the roster.
Maple got her start on the gridiron as a kicker for the Chiefs, although she practiced in other positions with the varsity team. McIntosh soon picked up the sport of lacrosse and Maple played that sport, too, so well that she ended up playing for Presbyterian College for several years. Her parents moved to Florida, where her father, Dr. Terry Maple, former President and CEO of Zoo Atlanta is now President and CEO of the Palm Beach Zoo. Maple transferred to Florida Atlantic University and soon tried out for the Palm Beach Punishers.
“My first year, I was just the punter and didn’t play a lot,” Maple said. “I moved to wide receiver in my second season, but my third season was my breakout season.” It certainly was. Maple was team MVP that season and became an offensive force for the team. Her performance got her noticed enough that when she applied to be a part of the first Team USA, she was one of 45 women chosen. In the 2010 season, the Punishers dealt with their share of adversity on the field, but Maple put together another strong year, making the IWFL All Star team. She had 14 catches for 337 yards and three touchdowns, while also punting 30 times for 959 yards, kicking four extra points and two field goals and handing 19 kickoffs for 721 yards.
“After my first season, they let me try to play receiver in tryouts and I was one of the only ones to consistently catch the ball,” Maple recalled. It was still awhile before the coach had confidence to call pass plays her way but when he did, it meant big things for Maple and her quarterback, the league’s offensive MVP that season.
Women’s football plays the same rules as the NFL. There is tackling and the game is fast-paced. The rosters are filled with women who played college athletics and are used to working out and performing at high levels. Most of the team’s play in high school stadiums but some teams have big fan bases and their own stadiums. Maple and her team play in a spread offense system, much like the offense run by Team Canada, the team many expect to be Team USA’s biggest competition. Other countries, which have more size, tend to play power football and will present their own challenges for the U.S. team.
Maple considered herself a long shot to make the team. She was a relatively new player on a lower tier team, but she sent in her resume, letters of recommendation and highlights and waited.
“They must have seen something they liked,” Maple said. She is one of two Tier 2 players on the U.S. roster. The team met in Round Rock, Texas on Saturday and started an intense training camp and preparation period. They leave for Sweden on Thursday and will be there until at least July 3, the day of the final games.
Maple has talked to some of her former high school teammates on Facebook and thinks she is the first from her team to play professionally and the only one from her team still playing football. She is a writer, writing a blog about her journey in football and finishing a screenplay, while also working part time doing security at a golf course. Her job has given her time to work on football and be a part of Team USA.
Maple’s plan going into what she knew would be an intense and daunting training camp experience was to simply work hard.
“If I do my best, I know I’m good enough. I’m stronger and faster than I’ve ever been,” Maple stated. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The U.S.’s quest for a Gold Medal begins Sunday, June 27 with a game against Austria. The team will be off until July 1’s game against Finland. July 3 will be the day for the Gold, Bronze and Fifth place games.
To follow Team USA’s progress, visit www.usafootball.com or read Sally Maple’s blog at endzoneairwaves.wordpress.com