The 2012 California Quake team. Photo by AXYZ3 - Thai Chau
Professional football is alive and well in Los Angeles: Just ask the women who play it.
"What is there not to love about football? Football is my life and has always been my first love," says Catherine B. Vivo, starting quarterback of the Downey-based California Quake, L.A. and Long Beach's representative in the Independent Women's Football League (IWFL), which fields over 30 teams throughout the USA and Canada. Vivo, a life-long Charger fan from San Diego, also calls the plays in the boardroom—she owns the Quake.
The Quake is finishing up a series of tryouts next week at Burke-Ham Park in Lynwood and Vivo is hoping to find some new athletes who possess the attributes necessary to excel at this notoriously difficult and demanding game. "It's the heart and dedication to fight through 60 minutes of football; to bleed, to hurt and to still fight for the love of the sport," says Vivo.
Vivo has a solid core of veteran players to build upon in her quest to get the Quake back to the level of the 2011 team, which went 10-0 and narrowly lost the IWFL championship game to the Atlanta Ravens. Among them: Jennifer "Rocket" Hazelton, who played Pop Warner football with the boys since age 10 and played on the boys' team at Hoover High in her native Fresno. "I am totally the hitter," says linebacker/tight end Hazelton, who played for the west coast powerhouse Sacramento Sirens before joining the Quake two years ago.
Veteran defensive back Jennie McNulty echoes "Rocket's" enthusiasm for traditional, no-frills tackle football: "This is the best sport, period," she says. "It’s really fun to watch and unbelievably fun to play. These women are like family to me."
"Family" is the concept that drives Quake hopeful Noemi Becerra, who's currently nursing a sore quad muscle obtained not from football but by chasing her 5-year-old son. "I want to lead by example," says the single mom, who hopes to instill discipline and dedication in her young child.
Becerra and the other participants in the tryouts have already benefited from the upbeat discipline of new Quake head coach Darrell Rhodes, a charismatic and natural teacher who brings years of experience to the gridiron. He groomed his son, Jonathon Amaya, for a successful NFL career (Amaya is currently a defensive back with the Miami Dolphins), and he has put Quake prospects and veterans through NFL-quality agility and conditioning drills this winter. "You get what you believe," says Rhodes, an excellent motivator. "Whatever you desire has to be genuine."
Rhodes and Vivo expect leadership from returning players like Mana Alison, a transplant from Sweden who became a IWFL western conference all-star wide receiver last year--her first season ever playing football. Running back Jazzalyn Jimenez, who played youth football with the Boyle Heights Wolfpack in East L.A., has set a standard for consistent high energy at this winter's tryouts.
Both players were members of last year's "Dirty Dozen" team, an injury-depleted Quake squad of only 12 players who battled courageously last year in the desert heat against an undefeated and previously un-scored-upon Phoenix Phantomz team. The Quake lost the game but did score a TD and won the respect of the Phoenix fans, who gave them a standing ovation. "Iron-Woman football" is how Vivo describes that grueling contest. "That game was not about the score, it was about the fight, heart and determination that the Quake left on the Phantomz field," she says.
In January, when the new Quake roster is set, the players will undergo what Vivo calls "hell month"—an intense interval of fundamentals and conditioning. By the season opener in April 2013, the Quake will be ready to do battle with conference foes like the Sirens, the Phantomz and the Tucson Monsoons, on the road and at their home stadium at Downey High School. Vivo will be at the helm, on the field and off. "It requires a lot of dedication and sacrifice to be able to be away from your family, let alone to put your body out there to get pounded on week after week," says Vivo, a committed leader who calls herself "1440" because that's how many minutes a day she thinks about football. "The adrenaline rush, the intensity....My love of football has changed my life," she says.
Tryouts will be held on Saturday, December 8th from 9:30AM to 2PM at Burke Ham Park, 11832 Atlantic Avenue, Lynwood. For more Quake information and sponsorship opportunities, please visit CaliforniaQuakeFootball.com
—Second photo: Jennifer "Rocket" Hazelton, photo by Matt Cohn. Third photo: Quake QB/team owner Catherine B. Vivo in action, photo by AXYZ3 - Thai Chau. Video by Matt Cohn.