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Mutiny Forging Women a Name on the Gridiron

By Used with permission from the Boston Globe Online. Andy Nesbitt, Globe Staff Correspondent

LOWELL - Tara Fay loved to play sports as a girl. She excelled on the athletic field, playing soccer and softball in high school before starring in track and field at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. But there was always one sport she wanted to try.

'I always used to watch football,' said the 23-year-old, 'and I would play it in the neighborhood.' But that was as far as her gridiron career would go, in someone's backyard or out in the street, because football had never been offered to females. That all changed for Fay three years ago, when she saw an ad in the newspaper looking for women to form a women-only football team.

'When I first heard about the football team I was like, `yeah, right.' But then a couple of days later, I thought about it, and I had to try out,' said the 5-foot-3, 150-pound tailback. 'It's awesome. It's now definitely my favorite sport.'

Fay is now a football veteran, having played a year with the New England Storm before being a member the past two seasons of the Massachusetts Mutiny of the National Women's Football League.

'It was a little tough at first, because it's like no other sport,' said Fay, a personal trainer and physical therapist aide. 'In a lot of other team sports, an individual can work and have some pretty good plays. But in football, if all 11 people on the field aren't doing their jobs, then no one gets anywhere.'

The Mutiny, with its 45-0 drubbing of the Cleveland Fusion last weekend, advanced to the semifinals of the NWFL. It will host the Philadelphia Liberty Belles at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at UMass-Lowell, with a trip to the SupHer Bowl on the line. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children and seniors, and $5 for UMass-Lowell students.

The teams met three times in the regular season, with the Mutiny winning twice.

'It's a rivalry,' Mutiny coach Dick DiMare, an Acton resident, said of the semifinal matchup. The Mutiny finished the regular season 7-1 to lead the Northern Division, a game ahead of Philadelphia. 'They are the defending champions. We've had some great games with them, and hopefully, we'll have a lot of people come out to watch, because it's going to be another great game.'

Yes, there's a local football team well on its way to a title game. And, no, it's not the New England Patriots. It's a team that comprises 45 teammates who play for nothing (not one dime) but the love of the game. And except for the 600 to 800 fans the Mutiny has averaged at its five home games, not many people have taken notice.

'Like the WNBA,' the women's professional basketball league, 'it started out slowly,' said linebacker Linda Caruso. 'But I think in a few years, it is going to take off.'

Caruso, who used to be a deputy sheriff at the Suffolk County Jail, reflects the players' wide variety of backgrounds, from quarterback Karolyn M. Domini, who works in real estate and property management, to guard Heather Manning, who manages transgenic research facilities.

The Mutiny has taken an interesting road. The team was formed two years ago after many of the members broke off, due to philosophical differences, from the New England Storm, which competes in the other women's football league, the Women's Professional Football League.

The Mutiny joined nine other teams last year to make up the new NWFL. It went 7-1 in the inaugural season and missed out on the playoffs due to a point differential with Philadelphia. The league added 11 teams this year and expanded the playoff format, allowing more teams to compete in the postseason.

The NWFL now consists of 21 teams in five divisions. It stretches from Maine to Detroit to Panama City, Fla.

'There has been some ups and downs, but I certainly hope it continues to become the predominant football league for women,' said Fay, who rushed for more than 100 yards and one touchdown against Cleveland. 'I see it as the most stable league right now. I would love to see it continue.'

Mutiny owner Michael Fay, who is not related to Tara Fay, said he understands that the league's chances of survival depend on the action on the field.

'What's going to make or break [the league] is going to be their skill level,' he said. Fay said he lost $30,000 last year, but, thanks to the new divisions and travel conditions, should break even this season.

The Mutiny is a step above most teams because most of the players have the extra year of experience, having played with the Storm. That was evident against Cleveland, which in just its second year showed its inexperience many times.

'The most amazing thing about women's football is the way these women pick up the game of football,' DiMare said. 'I couldn't imagine what it would be like if these women played football for 20 years.'

Tara Fay heads the list of running backs. Belmont's Sarah Moon, who has a day job in marketing, had two touchdown catches against Cleveland and is a talented wideout.

Both will be called this weekend to lead the way to the SupHer Bowl, and Tara Fay said she is more than ready for the challenge.

'I love playing Philly,' she said. 'It's a battle every time we step on that field, and we know it.'