“She flies with her own wings” is the Oregon state motto, and nobody embraces those words better than the Oregon Ravens. As the state’s only professional women’s football team, the Ravens are changing the game at warp speed. The team is part of the groundbreaking Women’s National Football Conference, whose mission is to “help women and girls reach their full potential through the power of football.”
Much like a group of crows is known as a murder, a group of ravens is called a conspiracy. Portland Mom Collective had the opportunity to meet a few members of the conspiracy on National Tryout Day, an event held in October around the country for aspiring athletes interested in joining a team.
I asked the players how they got started in football, a sport that has historically been dominated by men, and what it means to play professionally. Surprising myself, I walked off the field in tears. Not because of a hurt knee or a particularly intense tackle (I left that to the pros!), but because of the grit, determination, and HEART in the players’ stories.
I want to be strong
Victoriana (Tori) Dickson has always been athletic. She played basketball, volleyball, and track in high school and competed in track and field in college. But when her academic years were drawing to a close, a friend approached her about joining a women’s football team. Knowing very little about the sport, Dickson admitted she was in over her head at the time.
“Football was like a different language,” said Dickson. “It was strange, but I found a way to mix in basketball and volleyball and track into football. I think that’s what made me a little firecracker.” She originally joined a different team, but then experienced an injury and had to step back. After some time and some physical therapy, she is now ready to take the field again.
“This is the competitive league. This is where you go to kick butt,” she said.
Dickson’s sister is currently the 5th-strongest woman in the world. When the two of them talk about where they are today, they like to think about the little girls they once were.
“We are really firm in our belief that our younger selves would be so proud of us,” said Dickson, “We are being the role models we didn’t get to see at that age. You don’t see bigger women, stronger women out there in the streets doing what we’re doing, right? And we’re paving the way so that little girls can look up to us and say the same thing: I want to be strong.”
A conspiracy is family
Growing up in a big family in Kentucky, Brittany O’Connor was immersed in football. She remembers cheering for her older brother’s team around age 4. Her family eventually moved to Oregon, where her brother was an all-star player and was named defensive lineman of the year. A month after O’Connor graduated high school, her brother passed away in a tragic accident. As the family’s rock, it shook them to their core.
Two years later, O’Connor set out to honor her brother by playing football professionally. After spending a stretch with a Seattle-area team, it wasn’t a good fit. For a moment, she was crushed, and she questioned her dreams.
But then, she discovered the Oregon Ravens and asked if they were still looking for players. O’Connor worried about a gap in her training, and she thought she might not have the necessary skills.
“I’m my biggest critic,” said O’Connor. “I want to just be the best I can and ensure that I am performing at the highest level in honor of my brother. So, I was nervous.”
“But, as soon as I got on the field and got back in the environment, it was like I had never left,” she said. “Nobody really believed that I was a rookie in this league, and then I went out and had a baller season.”
O’Connor was selected to be the All Pro Speaking Captain, an experience that sparked a fire in her to keep going. She now aspires to try out for Team USA in four years, with the ultimate goal of bringing home the gold.
For now, she is happy to be in Oregon, where her family can attend home games. “There’s no better environment than the Ravens,” she added, “A conspiracy is a family. We all love football, and we love people.”
For adults curious about playing football, anybody is welcome to watch practice from the bleachers or attend games. O’Connor also emphasized that for younger girls who may be interested in the sport, opportunities to participate are growing at a rapid clip.
“There are more and more programs accepting girls playing flag football or on high school teams,” said O’Connor. “There’s stories that we’re seeing all across the United States now of girls who are stepping in.”
“But also,” she added, “If it’s not something that’s happening in your area, what’s better than being the first one to do it?”
Football feels like home
Rainbow “Bow” Gerdes started playing football in Independence, Oregon, when she was 12 years old. Though her coaches and family were always supportive, she admitted to occasionally hearing snide remarks from others.
“There were some of the big football dads, you know, who would say, ‘Girls don’t belong in football,’” said Gerdes, “I’m like: watch me.”
Gerdes credited football for giving her that level of confidence. “The first time I put on pads, I just felt at home,” she said, “I felt like I belonged on the field.”
Coincidentally, it was that same girls-can’t-play attitude that brought Gerdes to the professional league. By chance, someone had posted in the Craigslist Rants/Raves section their opinions on women not having a place in the sport. When Gerdes’ mom saw the post, she responded with a message about how Gerdes had played four years of varsity football, and clearly, woman can thrive in football. Someone else spotted the response and encouraged Gerdes to check out a professional team.
“I was hooked,” said Gerdes, reflecting on the first game she watched. “And I found a place for myself after high school.”
She’s now been playing for 21 years, and this is her third season with the Oregon Ravens. In the years since she joined the team, she said the interest and enthusiasm in women’s football has exploded. Her advice to anyone interested in exploring it?
“Just go for it,” she said. “There’s no harm in trying.”
She also encouraged parents to do the same for their kids. “Moms nowadays are very empowering to their daughters — and their sons,” she said. “It’s awesome to give them that confidence to pursue whatever they want.”
- Women’s tackle football is a spring sport. Keep an eye on the Ravens’ website for information about game tickets.
- Moms play football, too! Several members of the Oregon Ravens have children, and staff helps watch kids during practices.
- All WNFC games are televised on Vyre network. Locally, fans can catch live streams at The Sports Bra, a bar in northeast Portland dedicated to women’s sports.
- You can also find the Oregon Ravens on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!
There have never been more opportunities to play football! Today, tackle, flag, modified, co-ed, and YES, women’s football teams are available in towns and cities everywhere. To find one near you, visit FutureForFootball.com.