Monday, June 6, 2011

Player Profile - Lily Messina, #61 (Part 1)

Lily Messina "retired" at the end of 2010.  She had achieved her personal goal of being the only female player to start every game for ten consecutive seasons.  She is still with the team in 2011, as general manager and offensive line coach.  And sometime player.

She, more than any other individual, is responsible for the remarkable success of the Austin Outlaws who, now in their eleventh season, have outlasted several leagues and dozens of teams in the incredibly challenging world that is women's professional football. 

In the seven years I've been photographing Outlaws games and writing about players, I've been amazed at the enormity of what they have accomplished.  In a 2008 interview with Lily, I asked about some of the challenges. 

Turnover, for example.  Every season about a third of the team leaves and the Outlaws need to recruit new players.  How do you do it?  She talked about blanketing softball fields with flyer's, advertising on myspace, posters at gyms.  New players require rookie coaching.  Often the recruits have little or no knowledge of football - at one practice I saw the offensive line positioned along a strip of canvas about thirty feet long.   The canvas was labeled in three foot sections, C in the middle and G - T - E going in either direction; it was a guide for new players who didn't know where center, guards, tackles, and ends line up for play.

If recruiting and developing players is difficult, what about recruiting coaches?  There's no compensation and the season is demanding on time and energy, beginning with tryouts in the fall and continuing into June of the following year.  Lily talked about advertising and word-of-mouth recruiting of coaches, of having to reject some "misfits" from a painfully small candidate pool.

Then there's raising money to finance the season.  Finding fields where they can play - they've used four different venues in the time I've been following the team.  Getting volunteers to handle all the administrative and sideline jobs.  Getting someone to do the website.  Promoting games in local media (with a near zero advertising budget)  Coordinating travel.  Dealing with injuries - to herself and to teammates.  All with un-paid workers.  Lily is quick to point out this isn't her alone and she names others who carry much of the load, such as Tracey Suire who handles field operations.

I asked Lily, "What's in it for you?"  She frowns.  This is a silly question.  She talks about the fun, the friendships, the learning how to manage demands on her time and how to get things done.

Shoes off, Lily checks out House Field in Austin as
a possible venue for Outlaws games, a big
step up from Yellow Jacket Stadium where
they had been playing.

Not stated in that interview but said a hundred times in words and actions, the real answer is - Lily loves football.

A photo by team player and friend Cindy Gipson captures some of Lily's joy as she walks in the grass at House Stadium when the team moved their games there.  Shopping for a venue is a labor of love. 

Lily loved the game before she could play.  She had watched a UT game one Saturday and later commented to friends "It sucks that women can't play football."  That evening she and the same friends were at an Austin Ice Bats hockey game. The PA announcer promoted tryouts for the Austin Outlaws.  The friends asked "Did you hear that?" The next week Lily was at the tryouts.  And eleven years later she's still with the team. 

When you love something the way Lily loves football, you love everything that has anything to do with the game.  Watching Lily doing anything that involves the Outlaws is watching someone who is in her element.  Just a couple of examples to close this posting (profiling Lily is going to take more than one post):

As team general manager, Lily could exempt herself from the tryouts.  As a line player, she certainly
could be exempted from the long jump test in the tryouts - linemen don't jump.  Yet here she
is submitting to the tryout process.  And look at her smile.  She is enjoying every minute.

Lily helping with a fundraiser, and having
fun doing it. 

For the love of the game -

Tryouts for the Outlaws are rigorous, hard work on hot fall days.  Lily is the team General Manager but she goes through the same qualification process as every other player/candidate. 

Fundraising is an essential part of being an Outlaw.  Sometimes the fundraising even gets a little silly.  Rhymes with Lily - sorry - rather than stand on the sidelines when the team did a jell-o wrestling fundraising, Lily joined right in.  She took on one of the biggest and toughest players, lost the match but - well, look at the fun she's having.

More on Lily in my next post.

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