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The Panthers tackle Women’s Flag Football in its inaugural season

Nov 21, 2023 | Haley Hatherley, Student Athlete

Woman holding football

Edited by Vanessa Tignanelli and Kathleen Garvey

Student athletes from Canadore College participated in the inaugural season of the Canadore Panthers Women’s Flag Football team with Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Football Association (OWIFA).

The team started last winter when Head Coach and former OWIFA athlete, Kathleen Garvey, decided to get Canadore involved. “This is an inclusive sport that welcomes athletes from all sport backgrounds,” she says. “I really appreciate how OWIFA has legitimized the sport and helped it grow while keeping the focus on inclusivity and leadership.”

The process began with hosting learn-to-play sessions in April for women to try football in a casual, open setting. Linebacker Victoria Girard explains that she was unsure of joining at first, knowing very little about the sport.

“I’ve always been a hockey girl, but meeting Kathleen and the other girls really made me fall in love with flag football. It all wouldn’t be possible without our amazing coach Kathleen. It is so nice to have such a positive and uplifting team, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it with so many amazing young ladies. It’s great to see how far women’s sports have come.”

The team is made up of 15 athletes and four coaches: Head Coach Kathleen Garvey, Assistant Coach Alyssa Dean, Assistant Coach Anthony Backer, and Assistant Coach Mick Bilz, each bringing extensive athletic backgrounds in sports such as soccer, rugby, and ringette.

The season began locally with the North Bay Bulldogs Women’s Flag Football League. The Panthers placed second in the finals behind the Red Flags with a score of 27:24. The league has not only been instrumental in providing opportunities for female athletes in North Bay, but in preparing our Canadore Panthers to compete in tournaments throughout Ontario. 

The team took on their first OWIFA tournament at York University on October 22nd and a second tournament at the University of Waterloo on November 5th. Canadore College and Sheridan College are the only colleges participating in the OWIFA league against university teams.

The Panthers are currently placed tenth in the OWIFA rankings and are training to advance to attend the Canadian Collegiate Women’s Flag Showcase. This past Saturday, the team competed at Sheridan College in the OWIFA 5v5 Championship Tournament, finishing in the Top 10 in the league.

“Overall our team has improved drastically over a short amount of time,” says Kathleen. “Some of these schools have had programs for over ten years, so for us to compete says a lot about our athletes. We didn't just participate, we competed and were very successful!”

The defense is coached by Alyssa Dean and lead by Captain cornerback Taryn Madill. Highlights from the Waterloo Tournament on Nov 5th include the sack by rusher/linebacker Sabrina Shamess, 20 tackles by cornerback Taryn Madill, two interceptions, and a pick six by cornerback Leah Harper. Receiver and strong safety Alexis Shaw has 14 tackles, while being versatile to both the offense and defense.

The offense is coached by Mick Bilz and lead by Captain center Haley Hatherley. The athletes pushed themselves with five touchdowns by receiver Anh Ngo, 26 receptions by wide receiver Michelle Tyutyunik, a touchdown by quarterback Anna King and center Zoe Redmond with 10 receptions at the Waterloo tournament.

The positive outcomes of Flag Football’s inaugural season extend far beyond statistics; it has also provided a positive environment for athletes to grow as people and a community, as well as challenge their mental and physical strength.

“Flag football is a sport that I had never played before,” explains linebacker Kailie De Cook. “After this season playing for Canadore College, I have fallen in love with the sport. I enjoy going to practice and playing games with my teammates and being able to push myself to get better each time I hit the field.”

“The team is very supportive of each other,” says cornerback Mikaela Marinou, reflecting on favourite moments of their very first OWIFA game. “It was one of the first times the team had really come together. It was such a good feeling to celebrate together, it boosted our confidence and set the tone.”

“Football has not only helped me as an athlete but as a student,” continues center and offensive captain Haley Hatherley. “Having structure throughout my day for tournaments and practices allows me to improve my time management and organizational skills.”

With such a successful first season, the Panthers are sticking to the field and will participate in the North Bay Bulldogs Football Association league again next season, which is expected to double in the number of teams. The coaches are also hoping to develop an 11v11 team in the upcoming 2024-2025 season.

“We could not have done it without the support of Canadore College and the Sport and Wellness department,” says Kathleen. “A lot of the teams have to pay their own way and aren't supported by their institution in the way that our team is. It really makes it easier for women to participate and sends a message that women's sports are worth the investment.”

Follow the team on Instagram or on the Panthers website.


Photographs by Laurel Jarvis


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