(Published in Western Pennsylvania Mensa Phoenix, April 2011)
You know about one champion professional football team in Pittsburgh, but you might not know that there’s another one—which has a Mensan in its ranks. Michele George plays linebacker for the Pittsburgh Passion, a women’s football team that has played since 2003.
The Passion, who won their league championship while going undefeated in 2007, will play in the Women’s Football Alliance as they begin their season this month. They play their home games in George K. Cupples Stadium on the South Side and practice at The Club Sport and Health in Monroeville. Owned by Head Coach Teresa Conn and Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris, the Passion has been in the forefront of women’s football throughout their existence. In addition to their national title and two divisional championships, the Passion have set league attendance records and become the first women’s football team to broadcast games on a major television network (Fox Sports Net).
Michele, a native of East Brady, tried out for the team last year even though she had not played any sports in almost 10 years. She had lettered in volleyball and track at Butler High School and competed in the long jump, triple jump and pole vault at Clarion University. “I knew zero about football,” she said. “Never paid attention to it, never played the game.”
“When I moved to Pittsburgh, I wanted to do all the things I always wanted to and couldn’t,” she said. “I just wanted to try out to see if it was something I could do.”
The financial analyst at PNC Bank could say the same for joining Mensa. While she initially took the test to add to her resume, she has found other benefits to her Mensa membership. She said that going to Mensa activities such as Lemongrowers in different parts of the Pittsburgh area has forced her to learn the city.
Michele started out as a wide receiver with the Passion. “I thought I was doing good at that,” she said, “but at wide receiver, you’re pretty defenseless as far as taking hits.” After sustaining a concussion in practice, she decided to try a new position. “I asked the coaches, ‘Where’s a good place not to get blindsided?’” she said.
In an intra-squad flag football league, she found out she was good at defense, so the coaches suggested she try linebacker. “I really liked it,” she said. “Your head’s up the whole time. You can see who’s coming at you.”
Michele has found that football has some things in common with activities that some might associate more with Mensans. “Football is like chess,” she said. “You run the offense where you think the defense is not going, and on defense, you think, ‘This piece is in this position.’”
The Passion’s roster includes players from all over western Pennsylvania, and even a player from the Cleveland area, even though there is a Cleveland team in the league. They will play eight games during the regular season, with the first three on the road. The opening game will be against Pittsburgh’s other women’s football team, the Force, at the Ambridge High School stadium Apr. 2 at 7 p.m. The Passion will host the Columbus Comets in their home opener Apr. 30 at 7 p.m.
The Passion will be looking to improve on last year’s 4-4 record, and Michele thinks the team’s extensive preparation should give them an edge.
“The coaches said we’ve been together longer than any of the other teams in the division,” she said. “We know what we need to do and when we’re going to do it. I just don’t know what our opponents are going to do.”
2011 PITTSBURGH PASSION REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE
April 2, Pittsburgh Force, Away
April 9, Erie Illusion, Away
April 16, Cleveland Fusion, Away
April 30, Columbus Comets, Home
May 14, Pittsburgh Force, Home
May 21, Columbus Comets, Away
June 11, Cleveland Fusion, Home
June 18, Erie Illusion, Home
All games at 7 p.m.
2011 Pittsburgh Passion Home Game Ticket Sales
Senior / Military: $10.00
Children (5-17): $7.00
Students with ID: $7.00
Senior / Military: $32.00
Children (5-17): $22.00
Students with ID: $22.00
Tickets are available at www.pittsburghpassion.com. Individual game tickets are also available for purchase on home game days at the gate.