By Merle Exit
The New York Sharks are a women’s pro tackle football team. Even after playing for more than a decade, most New Yorkers have never heard of them.
They are made up of women ages 18 and older. Each spring the season begins with tryouts and the team’s final game of the regular season will be held Saturday.
Participation requires more than athletic ability. Not only do these women not get paid, but they have to pay to play as well as being able to hold down a full-time job or attend school.
Why do these women stake injuries for that chance to participate?
“I was born and raised in Queens and always into sports growing up, from basketball to softball,” said defensive line Faith “Lex” Xikis. “As I got older, work and responsibilities seemed to take priority. I am the owner of a property management corporation working long hours and I wasn’t doing anything for fun. I was looking into getting back into playing a sport when I stumbled across a women’s professional football team. It was something I wish was around when I was attending Bryant High School because I would have played.
“I tried out a year ago not knowing what to expect or if I could make the team. I was happy when I made the cut to be on the team for the 2013 season. From the beginning I fell into finding the team and just kept falling in love with the game of football. It has proven to be rewarding even with the intense dedication. Playing football is like having another profession. We commit a lot of time with practice, traveling time and training and studying our playbooks. However, the reward of playing a sport you love and the incentive of winning games trumps all of the work.”
Running back Caprece “Muzyk” Gray’s team spirit comes from more than just the love of the game.
“I come from a family of football players, so it is sort of in my blood. Most of the men in my family have either played football or have been involved with football at same level,” she said. “I love the rush I get when getting a big hit or gaining extra yardage.
“I have always wanted to play tackle football, but I didn’t know of any women’s tackle teams in the New York City area. After doing some research, I came across the New York Sharks and saw that they played their home games in Brooklyn, close enough to my home in Queens. From that moment I went to a tryout. This year is my second season.”
At 28, Caprece maintains a full-time job in retail merchandising. She puts her drive, dedication and hard work into building and growing C.I.R. Nation, a media company that spotlights the music, fashion, talents and stories of dominant and aggressive women.
“I am willing to pay to play because I am passionate about the game. I love football. I would rather pay to play than not play at all,” she said.
Defensive back Collette Smith considers herself as being “a New York Shark for life with everything it encompasses — for instance, family, team effort, dedication, professionalism, athleticism, integrity, morals, hard work and passion.
“Being a part of this team means so much to me, I have more confidence on and off the field. I seem to walk a little taller and a little bit prouder because of this amazing organization. The New York Sharks have truly uplifted my life in ways that I never would’ve imagined. As one of the very few women on this team that are much older , it keeps me alive and active.
“I just love this team for the encouragement and self-respect it offers. It’s truly amazing how one can grow and become a better person through organized sports, especially little girls and grown women playing a sport such as football, where girls are not usually allowed to play, as it prepares you in ways one never would have expected.”
In fact, Collette said that in spite of her inability to play last season, due to a knee injury, she showed up at practices as well as both home games and some away. The players consider their teammates an extended family.
Defensive Coach Jay Danzler, aka JayD, was a rookie in 2007 playing running back and corner back. She is the owner of 10 Paces and Shoot Productions, a producer for the History Channel as well as being a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer and creator of the Gridiron Fit-Series.
Her purpose is to help athletes accomplish their sports performance goals, maximize their potential and reduce their risk of injury by designing integrated sports performance programs that include flexibility training, cardio-respiratory training, core training, balance training, speed, agility, quickness and sport-specific conditioning.
JayD’s Gridiron Bootcamp is one way the Sharks stay fit during the off-season.
“Football is a full-contact sport. Not only did I want to survive, I strived to make history,” she said.
I have never been one for sports in either participating or being an avid fan. But their sense of passion was so felt that I volunteered my services as their director of public relations for a decade, never having any background other than being a writer and former comedian.
I found myself being challenged and supportive of a task that gave no monetary reward. I had “resigned” a few years ago and now cover the home games for the Brooklyn Daily. Turning 65 and with most of the vets retired, learning the names and faces are probably more difficult to me than the players remembering the plays called out by the coaches.
The Sharks play their home games at Aviator Sports Complex at Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field. For more information, visit nysharksfootball.com