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Tulsa Threat women’s tackle football team opens its season

Tulsa Threat’s season opener against Houston Energy at LaFortune Stadium, April 4

Chris Williams

The Tulsa Threat may have lost their season-opening game 40–7 to the Houston Energy last Saturday, April 14, but this didn’t dampen the enthusiasm the women have for football.

The Threat is a tackle football team that competes in the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL), which features 16 teams west of the Mississippi River and follows NCAA rules. Many of the players, who range in age from their 20s to late 40s, were athletes in other sports when they were younger.

Threat home games are at LaFortune Stadium, next to Memorial High School on Hudson Avenue between 51st and 61st Streets. In 40-degree windy weather in front of about 150 supporters, they had a difficult time matching Houston’s dynamic athletes.

The Energy gained 260 yards total rushing, with their quarterback running for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, while also completing six of 11 passes for 102 yards and another touchdown.

Houston’s defense was stifling, limiting the Threat to just 32 yards of total offense. Tulsa fumbled three times in the second quarter, including on back-to-back possessions, which gave the Energy the ball inside the 40-yard line each time. Houston scored four straight times to take a 26–0 lead into halftime.

The Threat scored their only touchdown late in the third quarter, when quarterback Terri Gilbert connected with Rebecca Buirrea for a 17-yard pass and Miranda Munson successfully kicked the extra point.

“We’ll go look at film and find out what areas we need to get better in,” Gilbert said afterwards. “Obviously, our offense struggled, especially with the turnovers. With a good team like that, you just can’t do that.”

Yes, the Threat’s players, who are not paid, do look at game film. They also practice twice a week during the season.

“There’s a lot of time and commitment that goes into it,” said Threat head coach Shanon Mayfield, who has been coaching football for about 16 years, eight of which for East Central High School and several more with the Oklahoma Defenders semi-pro men’s squad. “And they’re moms, they have their own kids … We do two nights a week and we keep them pretty hooked up. Every one of these girls has a passion
to play.”

Just like with any football team, there is an ever-present risk of injury. Munson, the team’s kicker since last season, originally played defensive end and outside linebacker but made a switch after recovering from a major injury
in 2016.

“I tore my labrum and they had to reattach my bicep on my right arm,” said Munson, 39, who played soccer growing up and at Union High School. “I can’t get hurt like that again. I work for the sheriff’s office, and they were like, ‘You can’t miss that much work again.’ But I still wanted to play, so I asked, ‘Can I kick?’ and they said yes. So I taught myself how to do that, because it’s not anything like kicking a soccer ball. Kicking a field goal or an extra point is a completely different animal.”

Gilbert, 46, has been on the Threat since 2013 and missed half a season due to knee surgery. The possibility of another injury doesn’t diminish her drive to play.

“It’s just the competitive nature,” said Gilbert, who played multiple sports at Sapulpa High School and softball at Connors State College in Muskogee. “It’s definitely not a soft sport, I’ll tell you that. They come at you hard and they tackle hard. Always a risk for injury. I’ve said I was going to quit I don’t know how many times—but it just draws you back. It’s just a fun sport to play.”

Since none of the women played football growing up, they all needed to learn basic fundamentals (and in many cases even just the rules) upon joining the Threat.

“There’s a lot of teaching,” Mayfield said. “I have a 10-year-old son who has more experience than these women, so it’s like coaching a youth football program. I’m about to go on record on this, but women are much smarter than men, and they retain all that knowledge—but you’ve got to be more intricate with the way you [explain] things. It takes a coach with detail.”

Gilbert, the quarterback, has the difficult task of learning all the offensive plays.

“My first year I played defense, and defense is more just reading and reacting to which way the play is going. Offense is a lot more thinking,” she said. “There are so many plays that can be run. Memorizing plays when you don’t have a playbook, that’s the biggest challenge. Plus they’re calling signals in that go with the play. That’s a lot.”

After going on the road to play the Iowa Crush on April 21, the Threat return to LaFortune Stadium to take on the Texas Elite Spartans on Saturday, April 28, at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or $5 in advance.

Visit facebook.com/TulsaWTF for more information.

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