Madison Blaze and the IWFL
Sheena Hirschfield at quarterback marshalls the Madison Blaze in a 2014 game.
Madison has been home to a women’s football team for nearly a decade. The city’s current team, the Madison Blaze — a player-owned group of nearly 40 participants between the ages of 21 and 51, with varying levels of organized sports experience — are 2-0 in the Midwest Division of the Independent Women’s Football League.
The women all have full-time jobs and pay to play for the Blaze. “We don’t make any money,” admits Pam Close, project manager for a software company and a middle linebacker, who owns the Blaze along with teammate Tiffany Loomis and one non-player. “We’re not owners as much as guardians. We’re trying to make sound financial decisions so this team is here year after year.”
The Blaze are reigning division champs and will host IWFL newcomers the Nebraska Stampede at their home opener Saturday, May 2, at Middleton High School’s Breitenbach Stadium.
Women’s football in Madison dates back to 2006, when the Wisconsin Wolves won two consecutive conference titles in the now-defunct Women’s Professional Football League. The Wolves moved to Wausau in 2010, and the IWFL’s Madison Cougars (seriously?) emerged in 2011. New ownership and a much-needed name change came in 2013, and the Blaze work hard to promote women’s football as a serious endeavor.
“The Lingerie Football League has discredited what we’re trying to do,” says head coach Rick Heuer, a former youth football coach; he and his Blaze coaching staff are the only males involved with the team. “We’re trying to make women’s football a legitimate sport.”
“People think we play a different game from what they see on Sundays, and we do,” Close says. “But we also run the same offenses and defenses, and we want to win. Those women out there are giving everything they’ve got.”
Founded in 2000, the IWFL consists of more than 1,600 players on 36 teams, including the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Warriors and the Minnesota Vixen. Other teams with fun names include the Connecticut Wreckers, the Pittsburgh Passion and — coming in 2016 — the Oklahoma City Banshees.
Teams mostly follow NCAA men’s football rules. Many women play both offense and defense. Blocking below the knees is prohibited.
Tickets to Blaze home games are $10 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and military members, and free for kids under 12. They’re available through Eventbrite, or at the gate. A portion of all ticket sales is donated to local charities — even if that means the Blaze don’t break even.