Queens College grad makes way on gridiron

Beth Nugent was an athlete growing up. She played basketball and judo at St. Francis Prep, softball and basketball at Queens College. The sport she always wanted to play, however, was out of reach.
Football was the Jamaica product’s dream. When she and a few other classmates at St. Francis Prep asked to tryout, they were laughed off the field. Therefore, she opted for the next best thing, flag football.
“We kind of were relegated to flag,” Nugent said. “It’s what we were stuck with.”
Not for long. One frigid December afternoon, back in 1999, it all changed. The Minnesota Vixens, a barnstorming group testing the waters for the Women’s Professional Football League, offered a challenge to a group from the Long Island Flag Football League, of which Nugent was the president. A bunch of women accepted the challenge, naming themselves the Sharks, and prevailed in the scrimmage. They immediately joined the league.
“It was kind of a dream come true,” recalled Nugent, an offensive lineman for the Sharks. “I know I wasn’t the only one who wanted to play tackle football. This was our opportunity, kind of the moment we have all been waiting for. So we were very excited about breaking into it.”
Eight years later, Nugent and the New York Sharks, who moved to the Independent Women’s Football League in 2002, where they remain, are still living the dream. Still a grassroots operation, the Sharks are growing in popularity. Numbers are rising each season.
This year alone they had 130 women attend one tryout at Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island and several more at the others. “The first couple of years there were five or six girls,” said quarterback Karen Mulligan, in her fifth season with the Sharks. “There were two or three once.”
They recently advanced to the IWFL Eastern Conference Championship game, shutting out the Manchester Freedom last Saturday afternoon, 28-0. As one of the team’s founding members and director of football operations, Nugent’s job expands well past the actual field. She is responsible for equipment, but far more importantly gaining fields for practice and games. She deals with sexism. Her requests are often met with quizzical looks and sideways expressions.
“We get a lot of that from men,” she said. “I don’t know what they’re expecting, but when they see us play, they say ‘wow, these girls can actually play, they’re not too bad.’ ”
“She’s been around since the flag days so she’s a good anchor point,” owner Andra Douglas said of Nugent. “I hope she stays around forever, and I think she’s going to.”
Since their inception, the Sharks have bounced around. From Midwood High School in Brooklyn to August Martin in Jamaica, to a championship game one year at St. John’s, and now this year at Aviator Field in the flatlands of Brooklyn.
Raising interest in the Sharks is still a struggle. In four home games, the average attendance was in the low hundreds. The record was at St. John’s, when they drew 1,000. Still, they are known far more than a few years ago. For instance, a few Sharks were guests on the CBS Early Show recently.
“I think it’s the combination of increasing popularity and exposure we’re getting,” said Nugent, a detective in Nassau County. “More women and girls are interested. It’s another barrier we haven’t broken.”

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