Football is thought of as primarily a man's sport.
But when a Charlotte group of football-loving women were denied participation in a men's fantasy football league, they started their own.
Four years later, the "Ladies League" has a unique combination of competition, service and social enjoyment.
The majority of the 12 women in the league, between ages 28 and 31, met while participating in a skeeball league a few years ago. While many had attended the same college - Appalachian State University - most didn't meet until living in Charlotte, where they were brought together by friends or boyfriends.
"The guys we know all did their own fantasy league, and my ex-boyfriend was always traveling, so I'd set up his team for him, and I was thinking, 'I'd rather just set up my own and get some credit for this,' " said Chantal Lyon, 29.
Hope Tester, 29, said she and some of the women wanted to join their boyfriends' league but were told it was guys-only.
Wendi Fleener of Selwyn Farms officially started the Ladies League four years ago.
In fantasy football, each member of the league chooses a number of players they think will do well that season. The Ladies League women each choose 16 players from a variety of teams.
Every week, they pick eight from their team they believe will do well (thus earning points) and eight who will be benched. The women get points if their players make touchdowns, interceptions or other noteworthy accomplishments. There is a weekly winner, and at the end of the season an overall winner who receives prize money from the $50 contributed each member at the start of the season.
"The guys make it much more serious and make more fun of each other," Fleener said. The Ladies League "is more social. We've had people that dropped out and new ones join. It's widened our group of friends and given us a great network of girlfriends."
Because the league can only have 12 members, there is a waiting list for women who want to join; however, nonmembers are welcome to attend the group's events.
The women in the league are more serious than they let on. Watching the Panthers' opening game from Brazwell's on Montford, most had their smartphones out, tracking scores online.
When the Panthers' Steve Smith scored, the women clapped, whooped and cheered along with the dozens of guys at tables around them.
The league has also become more sophisticated over the years. The more events members attend, the more likely they are to win the $50 social award the Ladies League presents at the end of the season. Weekly winners get $50 and choose the next week's venue. The grand-prize winner gets $250 at season's end.
The group also holds an awards ceremony and other celebrations throughout the season. This year they even had koozies made reading "Ladies League IV, 2011."
"Our first year, we had no idea what we were doing, but now we're pretty serious," said Tester. "We know what we're doing, and we're researching players before we pick our teams."
Betsy Wetmore said the exposure to so many teams and players has made her much more knowledgeable about football.
"It makes the games more exciting," Wetmore said. "And there's some friendly bantering back and forth. Wendi and I are pretty competitive."
The group has also started reaching beyond football to try to give back to the community.
On Sept. 10, the women invited friends and significant others to join them as they painted hallways at KIPP Charlotte, a tuition-free, open-enrollment college preparatory middle school serving 360 students in grades five through eight.
During the holidays the group will sponsor a family to support with gifts and food.
The women live throughout Charlotte, and many of the men who brought them together are no longer in their lives, but their love for football and the Panthers has kept them together.
"We're all Panthers fans," said Tester. "We live here. I really hope they win, because Charlotte could use the energy."