I’ve mentioned in my column before that I’m a couch potato sports enthusiast. I can watch anything from curling to rhythmic gymnastics (I actually kind of miss them), but my favorite sport is football. Perhaps it was the many years I spent as my older brother’s tackle dummy, or sitting in the freezing cold bleachers watching him score on an exciting flea flicker play. Whatever it was, I learned the ins and outs of the game pretty well. I’m excited about the Eagles making the playoffs. Hopefully, they will go far. But if not, I will rest easy knowing that my football fever will have another outlet: The Philadelphia Phantomz. The Phantomz are a full-contact, women’s football team that is part of The Women’s Football Alliance (www.wfaprofootball.com). Boasting almost 70 teams, WFA is the largest and most competitive women’s tackle football league in the world. The league is in recruiting mode right now, as it looks for new players for the start of the season in the spring. We spoke to one of the starting players, Amanda Avvento, as she was on her way to a winter practice session in the cold.
PGN: Tell me a little about the family, and who instilled your love of sports?
AA: I come from a loving, caring family. Both mother and father are Italians from Brooklyn, and I have an older sister who lives in Minnesota. I grew up and still live in the Poconos. Both parents, but mainly my father, encouraged me to do things outside the box. In ninth grade, my father suggested I try out for the men’s football team. He saw the passion that I had for the game. We’d watch it on TV, and I’d be calling the plays or we’d play out on the front lawn. I made the team, and the guys were kind of confused at first to see a female player on the team, but they were welcoming. The first time I made a hit during practice, the boys were like, “Holy crap, she can play!” Unfortunately, a few practices in, I was facing off against this guy, a real nice guy, but he was 6’4” and 240 pounds and I blew out my knee. I was devastated.
PGN: Oh, that stinks.
AA: I know. But I tried to stay involved. I went to all the games. My sister was in color guard so I went to support her, too. When I got to college, it wasn’t possible to play football, so I played rugby.
PGN: I know you have several jobs. Can you list a few?
AA: Currently I work at Under Armour, which is a fantastic store for all athletes. I’ve been there for five years. I’ve grown as a person there and I do my best to represent them in every way, on and off the field. My full-time job is working as an emotionalsupport teacher in the East Stroudsburg School District for kids with ADHD and autism, or other emotional and learning challenges. I love to teach, but it’s one of those jobs where you don’t know what to expect each day, so you kind of have to roll with the punches. It can be stressful, but it can also be very rewarding.
PGN: What are your responsibilities?
AA: I work primarily with just one student, but I bounce around and work with all the kids in the classroom when I can. I help with classroom work and setting goals. I am there to do crisis intervention if needed; I help them on and off the buses, stuff like that. I also coach at school so the kids all call me Coach A. They get a kick out of me playing football, so they’re always asking me, “How was practice?” “When is the next game?”
PGN: That’s sweet. On the not-so-sweet side, do you have to deal with the modern side of schools these days? Active-shooter drills?
AA: Yeah, we have security guards on each floor. We do a good job of communicating, so we know who is in our building at all times. You have to show ID to get in and we do monthly drills. We have protocols for both the school building and on the buses — we want to do everything we can to make our students feel safe. It is scary that we live in such a crazy world today. I grew up in Tobyhanna, a small town where you knew your neighbors and left your doors unlocked.
PGN: My, how times have changed. But that’s not it for your jobs, is it?
AA: No, I also work at Lincoln Financial Field. I’ve been an event-staff supervisor there for about five years, working all Philadelphia Eagles events, concerts and other sports tournaments. It’s up to me to provide a safe and fun environment for all guests, staff and performers. It’s fun because I like working with and around people with high energy.
PGN: Philadelphia fans are notoriously rowdy. It must get crazy for you.
AA: Yeah, especially if the Eagles are losing, people can get rude and disrespectful, especially to my staff. If they’re not having a good day, they’ll let you know. Luckily, with the great season and the Super Bowl win last year, the fans have been much happier lately, which makes the job much easier. But you never know what’s going to happen until the final score.
PGN: What’s the worst incident that comes to mind?
AA: Often people will screw up their tickets and then want to blame our staff. Fortunately, if they get too belligerent, we have police officers right at the stadium and [the fans] can be arrested if they get physical with the staff. I don’t tolerate that. But people get drunk and sloppy. I had a beer spilled on me two games ago. It wasn’t intentional, but this woman was walking and she got called a really bad name by some guy. She turned around really quickly and accidentally doused me with beer as she tried to go after him. I was like, “Oh, are you kidding me?” when I got soaked, but he deserved it after what he said. I was just collateral damage.
PGN: Well, as someone who plays full contact football, I’m sure you can handle it.
AA: Yes, I’m the starting center for the Philadelphia Phantomz women’s football team. We’re a relatively new team, but we have some amazing athletes. I’m proud to say that last year I made Team USA and All-American. It’s amazing to be surrounded by women who are passionate about the sport, people who aren’t afraid of hard work and are willing to do what it takes to be successful. I travel two hours, four times a week to go to practice. The team has been in the league for three years now, and I think we’re on the verge of going to the top. We’re representing Philadelphia and women’s tackle football. It’s an honor to be a part of that.
PGN: What was your worst injury?
AA: Oh, I’ve had several concussions over the years, sprained ankles. I fractured a toe. I’ve dislocated my kneecap four times. A lot of it happened in high school and college. But overall, I’m in good shape despite the injuries. I might be bruised, but I’m healthy.
PGN: I understand your partner plays too.
AA: Yes, Ashley Maslowski, but she’s in a different league, the Tyrants, part of the USWFL. She was playing in Michigan with the Flint City Riveters, but now she lives in Virginia where she started her own team, the Winchester Tyrants.
PGN: And for the record, neither league is strictly LGBT, correct?
AA: No, we have gay and straight players and people from all walks of life — but we’re not a gay league. And we’re not the lingerie league, either!
PGN: And most amazingly, the players just do it for the love of the game, correct?
AA: Yes, we’re part of a league called the Women’s Football Alliance. It’s pretty big. Unfortunately at this point we don’t get paid. In fact, we have to pay for our own equipment; jerseys, helmets, knee pads, travel costs, hotels — all of it. It’s serious, because if I were to get injured, not only does it mean I don’t get to play, it can affect me off the field. If I were in the NFL and got hurt, it’s OK. That’s my only job and I get compensated, but for me, I have four jobs. I could lose some or all of them if I can’t go to work because of a football injury, so it’s no joke. We need to make people aware of what we do because we are passionate about playing and we’re good. Once people see how we play, it changes minds. Women in football is a thing, in the U.S. and overseas. Even on men’s teams, we’re seeing women as kickers and punters — there’s even one female wide receiver. We need to find individuals who are willing to support and invest in Philadelphia women’s football. We want to inspire girls who want to get into the sport. There are teams in the league like the New York Wolves or the Boston Renegades who have been established for up to 20 years. They have great support behind them, but we need Philly to step up to the plate.
PGN: Do you hear that, Philly? Are you ready for some (women’s) football?
For more information about games or trying out for the team, visit www.phantomzfootball.com.