Kick in the pants

Ky. Karma encourages women
to reach goals via football

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(June 2007) – If someone had told Melissa Ward when she was a young girl growing up in Indianapolis that she would one day be a member of a professional women’s football team, she would have laughed in their face.

Ky. Karma football team

Photo provided

Melissa Ward is the offensive tackle for
the Kentucky Karma football team.

Now at 38, Ward plays offensive tackle for the Kentucky Karma football team. Kentucky Karma is a team in the National Women’s Football Association and plays games within the Midwest region. Home games are played at 7 p.m. at Holy Cross High School Alumni Field.
Ward always had a keen interest in physical activity, but there weren’t many sports opportunities other than gymnastics, dance and cheerleading when she was younger. During her sophomore year of high school, Ward moved to New Jersey, where she found more sports options at her new school.
This school was “a little more progressive with its women’s sports programs,” said Ward. “I played basketball and threw the discus and shot put for the track team.”
Due to her experience on the track team, she became interested in running and weightlifting, which she continued to pursue in college.
Ward earned an Air Force ROTC scholarship and was required to take physical training on a weekly basis. She majored in political science and criminal justice at Indiana University in Bloomington, and currently serves as the executive director for the Arts Association of Oldham County.
Ward said that being a member of Kentucky Karma is “a pretty big commitment.” She attends practice from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with games on Saturday.
Jay Torsch, Kentucky Karma coach, introduced Ward to the concept of joining a professional women’s football team. Torsch, a board member and coach for the Oldham County Youth Football League, said “I thought she might be interested after having talked with her about her son playing youth league football, so I suggested she try out.”
Encouraged by Torsch, Ward made the team in December 2006. “I didn’t realize there was a professional women’s football team anywhere, let alone right outside of Oldham County!”
Thomas Hawkins Sr., is co-head coach and owner of Kentucky Karma. Playing on the football team is “a passion for most of them. It’s something they’ve always wanted to do.”
Hawkins, a former coach for the Oldham County School System, said the football franchise came to Oldham County in 2004. A staff was created to handle the franchise, but when changes were later made in the coaching staff, he was approached to become head coach.
He resisted at first, but decided it was an “opportunity to take a program and build on it.” It is an on-going process he said, and he hopes to build the franchise as good as any in the NWFA and build a team that is competitive enough to strive for the championship each year.
About 96 percent of the players are women who have played other sports, said Hawkins. He said Ward is a dedicated player with a desire to “do things right.”
Ward said that being a part of Kentucky Karma fulfilled a dream for her “to do something people said couldn’t be done. I have always wanted to do things people said women shouldn’t or simply aren’t able to do, and to prove them wrong.”
But it’s not an easy task for any woman to keep up with the practice schedule required of the team. Most women juggle children, after school events, jobs and many other priorities that make it difficult for them to devote time to something they want to do and not feel guilty about it.
Ward compares herself to a single working mom because her husband works out of town and doesn’t have to juggle her hectic schedule. Every now and then a game might be sacrificed because of a sick child, board meeting for work or her children’s games, but Ward says she always gives 100 percent of herself to the team when possible.
“Because we have to sacrifice more to make it to this level of achievement,” Ward ventured to say that women are even more competitive than men who play football. They also have to endure a wide spectrum of remarks that are made quite often.
“Most of the people I have talked to have been first amazed, then very supportive and interested in the League,” she said. However, there are still those individuals who retain a stereotypical idea of what women should and should not do.
“Physically, I would say that a woman’s physical stature is both an advantage and hindrance in this sport,” said Ward, who is 5-foot-9. While the team’s smaller, quicker running backs could run rings around the men, Ward said she definitely wouldn’t want to be up against some of the NFL’s finest D-Linemen.
In addition to playing offensive tackle, Ward has also been trained as a defensive guard. Torsch said that while “we have different goals for offense and defense, our team goals are the same as any other football team. Get better, be competitive, win.”
But Ward has learned that football “is only partly physical. There is a huge mental component to football that I didn’t know existed until I began to play,” said Ward.
She believes women excel at such tactics as learning the plays and calls, how to read the opponent’s moves, and how to improvise at a moment’s notice. To be a member of Kentucky Karma, Torsch believes women need to be “athletic, competitive, dependable, honest, have good sportsmanship and good character.” All the same qualities that Ward has.

• For more information, visit: www.kentuckykarma.com. Three games are scheduled in June before the playoffs start June 23.

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