It’s been more than a month since the Panthers ended their season, so some of you may be experiencing early stages of withdrawal.
Enter the Carolina Queens, a women’s team that plays full-contact, 11 vs. 11 football at full-speed from April-July on Saturday evenings at Hopewell High School. Rest assured, this is NOT the Legends Football League (aka: Lingerie League). As witnessed at a recent Queens practice on a Saturday morning, these athletes can flat out run, hit and play.
The Carolina Queens started playing in the 26-team Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) in 2004. The Queens play in the Atlantic Conference with foes from Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC and Durham. Play follows the NCAA Men’s Football rules.
The Queens were started by Ebony Kimbrough. Kimbrough is the owner and coach of the Queens and has been playing football for 17 years (five years with a team in Greensboro before starting the Queens).
She says it took about two years to get the roster built up to be competitive. “I have played all kinds of sports all of my life in Georgia, but I always loved football,” Kimbrough said. This season will be the first year she won’t play and will just be coaching. “I have been trying to retire from playing for the last five years. It was hard to let go.”
There are 40 women on the roster and ages range from 18 to 50. They are mothers, wives and single women. They are pharmacists, chefs, teachers, police officers and office workers.
“I love contact, I love the team,” says player/coach Miriam Key-Parker. She has been playing with the Queens since 2005. Like Nate Scarborough in “The Longest Yard,” Coach Miriam will leave the clipboard on the sideline and enter the game for a big play. “Someone has to show them how it’s done!” she laughs.
Ruth Ellerbee is a 10-year veteran of the Queens and plays safety, wide receiver and special teams. She missed 2011 and 2012 while she served overseas in the military, but jumped back into the flow upon her return.
“It won’t let me go! It will not let me go. I just love it!” Ellerbee says.
Autumn Mitchell is a rookie on the Queens, slotted to play running back, corner back and special teams. Mitchell has played basketball her whole life…even professionally overseas. She has always dreamed of playing football.
“I am growing to love this game,” she said. “And, I love this wonderful group of girls.”
Turnout for a game is typically around a few hundred fans. The travel budget comes from sponsorships and from Kimbrough’s own pocket, she said. They typically travel via charter buses or passenger vans and players are responsible for buying their own meals.
The Queens work hard to be better. And, it’s clear they’re having a blast on the field. But they have each other’s back off the field, too. They are a tight-knit group that provides a great deal of love and camaraderie for each other.
As Kimbrough said: “Football brought us to each other. Family keeps us together.”
The Queen’s regular season starts on April 9. The first home game is 5 p.m. April 23 v. Detroit Pride at Hopewell High School. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.
Photos: Greg Kurts