Elissa Flaumenhaft has many titles these days. She's a mother, first and foremost, to a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, and a former candidate for Parker Town Council in 2018. Now, …
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Elissa Flaumenhaft has many titles these days. She's a mother, first and foremost, to a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, and a former candidate for Parker Town Council in 2018.
Now, Flaumenhaft, 35, a scientific lead at medical device/blood component technology company by day, can add another milestone to her resume as a member of the inaugural Denver Bandits football team, part of the newly formed Women's National Football Conference. The Denver Bandits completed their first season last month at 2-4. Not bad, Flaumenhaft said, for a group of women who new little to nothing about how to play coming into it. Flaumenhaft plays center.
“I think back when I look in history books at male football players with the leather helmets — I kind of think of it that way. One day we will be in the history books,” Flaumenhaft said. “It's the same thing. It's paving the path for the next generation and I take that very seriously.”
The Parker Chronicle spoke with Flaumenhaft on her groundbreaking spring as a Bandit and the future of the sport.
Where do you see women's football going in the coming years?
My hope is that in five years we will be to the level that the NFL is, or almost to that point. It's really difficult to build something from the ground up. The WNFC works really hard to promote women's sports, especially football, and get us to that level and show the world we can compete in the same way men do and are just as talented and competitive and deserve that same level of competition and recognition.
How do you personally work toward gaining that level of recognition for the team and the league?
There are two aspects to that. There's the actual playing, in which case my role is to learn the game and continuously improve. This is the first time I've played football outside of backyard football, so learning everything from the ground up and from scratch and trying to continuously improve and be a good player and be a good teammate. There's the actual playing aspect, and then there's the stewardship or ambassador aspect. You're representing your team no matter what you're doing. You're constantly representing your team and yourself as part of the team, so getting out there and talking up the team. Getting our name out there, promoting what we're all about.
Do you feel there's a lot of pressure on you and your teammates for things to go right?
Obviously, we want everything to gain momentum and we want to promote ourselves and the league and get our name out there. As far as pressure — pressure to make a good impression — show people we are worthy of this and we're deserving of being given this opportunity. And most of the team I would say are women who have never played before, and I think we did well.
We put pressure on ourselves to not only learn the game, but to come together cohesively as a team and to perform well. We've had our ups and downs, but it was definitely a learning experience, and we're learning how to improve for next season. I think the pressure is more on getting our name out there and letting them know what we're about as opposed to bringing home trophies and championships. While that's nice, our focus needs to be more on promotion of the league as a whole. There's pressure there, but it's also an opportunity. I'll look at it mostly as an opportunity rather than this insane amount of pressure.
Football is not an easy sport to learn. What was the biggest challenge in learning the game?
I think the basics of the game I had pretty well. I watch football. But it's not really an inherent feeling or desire I would say of most women to want to go out and have full contact with other women in full pads. Something I'm still learning to get used to is taking a hit or hitting. Trying to be aggressive without doing any permanent damage to anybody. I also never realized how much of a mental game football is. I thought it was just a physical game. In my position especially, there's so many things you have to do at once and they all have to be in concert with one another. And you are constantly thinking, 'What's my next step? Who do I need to block? Where is the ball going?' all kinds of things. Trying to do all those things at once takes a lot of practice and it's still something I'm still trying to improve at and to get good at.
It's a team effort. There's a lot of talking that goes on. You have to trust the person that's working right alongside you, and that all takes time to develop and cultivate. It will be a continuous process, even with players returning next season. The season's still short, we're still learning as a team how best to work together and communicate.
How do you get people interested in this league, either as a player or a fan?
The potential player is pretty easy. Generally, there are people who already have an interest in athletics who have already played sports. For the most part, they're people who have played sports in the past. And talking about the equality piece and trying to advance women's football to the level of men's football and trying to empower women through football I think really resonates with a lot of females. We've all been in situations where we're either told we're not enough or we're too much of something. Showing them they fit into this scenario and they can empower other people is an easy sell.
Really the mission piece is key. Showing that we're trying to empower women and girls through football is a message that also resonates with females, and the men who love those females and support those females will adopt that attitude as well and take it on as our own. It resonates with so many people. A lot of us have experienced situations where we feel we don't belong because we are female. This is a place to leave all that at the door and be you while empowering other females.
How can someone can get involved?
First, I would say come out and join us. There's a group of ladies that work out a couple times a week. We lift at one of the local gyms. Come out to the tryouts. There's going to be an informational meeting for perspective players later this summer to set the stage for expectations and tryout information. I think anyone is teachable and coachable. Many of us were in that same boat last season. We weren't sure if we were going to be good or if it was right for us. Having that open mind and being coachable is something our coaches stress constantly. If you're coachable, you can go really far. I'm still learning, but I've seen improvement from the beginning of this season to the end of this season. I've come far but I've got so far to go, but there's that continuous learning and effort. If you're willing to put in that effort and willing to learn, everyone's willing to help you. Until you're in the thick of it and realize 'I can actually do it' — let us show you you can do this. You'll be surprised what you're capable.
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