Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and make a trail.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) That quote appears at the beginning of the documentary “The Herricanes,” which played at the Nashville Film Festival on Monday, October 2, 2023.
Olivia Kuan’s Mom played football. Olivia thought it was something any girl could do Upon learning how unique her mother’s experience was, the young filmmaker decided to document her mother, Basia Haszlakiewicz’s, participation in the female football leagues of the seventies. Basia played for the Houston Herricanes in the NWFL (National Women’s Football League.)
Ms. Kuan’s excellent documentary traces the origins of female contact football. She interviewed members of several teams of the seventies. Additionally, she did a great job of labeling each interview subject onscreen. The research and editing team did a terrific job of assembling the interviews into a coherent whole.The archival production team consisted of Kelsey Carr and researcher Chris Morcam. Still photographs and film footage from the games of the seventies take us back in time.
The documentary embraces the concept “it’s okay for women to be whole people.” Another truth the film underscores: “It’s important to create a world that welcomes everyone.” Interesting timing. Olivia Hill, the first trans-gender woman to hold office in Nashville, was sworn in this very day as one of 5 council-members at large for the Metro area. Meanwhile, the state of Tennessee has banned drag shows in the very recent past.
The entire idea of letting women play contact football grew out of the cultural shift of Title IX in 1972. Title IX said that no school could discriminate on the basis of sex in extra-curricular offerings in public schools. Today’s youth don’t remember what a sea change this was, but I do. I began teaching junior high school students in 1969 and witnessed the changes of the seventies firsthand.
Olivia’s mother, Basia Haszlakiewicz, played for the Houston Herricanes in the seventies. To the argument women “don’t want to play contact sports” the rebuttal was,”They’ve never been given the opportunity to see if they want to play football.” Today, one of the early supporters of female football runs Gridiron Girls camps. Youngsters who know nothing about Title IX can try football out.
Be the Revolution
As the film emphasizes, it is not easy to be first.
Four National Women’s Football League teams were founded in 1974. Among the teams participating over the years were the Toledo Troopers, the Dallas Bluebonnets, the Los Angeles Dandelions, the Dallas/Ft. Worth Shamrocks, the Oklahoma City Dolls, the San Antonio Flames, and the Houston Herricanes.
There were initially 14 teams with 3 divisions. The power team was Oklahoma City. In fact, the Oklahoma City Dolls didn’t lose a game until their sixth season. The Dolls put a beat-down on the Herricanes in their first meetings. They averaged 35 points a game and routinely beat the early Herricanes by scores as lopsided as 40 to 0 and/or 56 to 0.
The Houston Herricanes
But the Herricanes steadily improved and were competitive near the end of the league’s existence. The players had to buy their own equipment ($88,15 in Olivia’s Mom’s case) and it took $50,000 to keep a team afloat. There were more people on the field than in the stands. This did not help the financial situation of the teams. The comment is made in the documentary that parity for women in any sport is yet to be achieved.
The documentary made it clear that support for women’s contact football in Europe is much stronger, citing the 2019 World Championship in Leeds, England. Teams thrive in countries like Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, Germany and England. As for the original NWFL teams, they began to fold in ’78 (Los Angeles Dandelions) and ’79 (Toledo Troopers, Oklahoma City Dolls, Houston Herricanes,) Some (the Dallas/Ft. Worth Shamrocks) had folded earlier. The 1979 Championship game was canceled.
Today, there are over 100 teams playing, worldwide, and women’s sports are increasing in popularity (Natalie Portman is one owner of a woman’s team). This interesting and informative documentary–-one of the best at the Nashville Film Festival—gives you the history of the genesis of contact football for females. It’s a well-done fun documentary.