Kam Warner won't let this dream slip away. Not like the last one, a memory still nagging at her more than a decade later. So the 33-year-old, once...
KENT — Kam Warner won’t let this dream slip away.
Not like the last one, a memory still nagging at her more than a decade later.
So the 33-year-old, once an elite hurdler and long jumper for the University of Washington, puts on her football pads and pushes herself through the drills on the grass practice field behind Kent-Meridian High School. She blocks for a teammate on a kickoff return while her 10-year-old son, Chico, helps chase the ball carrier.
Chico, a promising running back himself, is the jack-of-all-trades for the Seattle Majestics, a women’s tackle-football team that features 23 players ages 22 to 40. In addition to his game-day duties as water boy, tee retriever and member of the chain gang, he fills in at practice (with no contact) when an injury or work commitment prevents a full turnout.
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Chico is one of his mother’s biggest fans as well, although he sometimes is shy about it. Asked how he likes his mom playing football, he shrugs and says, “It’s kind of good.”
Warner said she “fizzled out” as a track-and-field athlete, but still can run and is plenty good on the football field. She is one of the top running backs in the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL), averaging 123 yards a game, with 10 touchdowns in seven games (she missed one with an injury). She is a key reason the Majestics are 8-0 in the Pacific Northwest Division of the Western Conference. The IWFL, founded in 2000, features 30 teams across North America, from Southern California to Montreal and Seattle to Florida.
Originally the Tacoma Majestics, the team relocated to Seattle last season. New ownership took over this year as three active players — Camille Head, Heather Gallemore and Michel Rene Volk — stepped up to fund the franchise when it appeared it would fold.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Head, a receiver and defensive back, noting the team has a $70,000 annual budget.
But it is a labor of love for these 23 women, who pay $1,100 apiece to wear the uniform. Some find sponsors and participate in fund-raisers, but many, like Warner, simply write a check. Most have full-time jobs, like Warner, who is a community corrections officer. A couple are stay-at-home moms.
It costs Billy Russo to coach this team, considering the gas it takes to and from practices, although the team covers his expenses on road trips. Russo, 32, who lives in the Lake Stevens area, has a coaching background in youth, arena and middle-school football.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Russo said. “It’s been an eye-opening experience.”
The coach and players share a passion for football. They have one answer for those who question the quality of their sport: Come and watch.
“People are usually shocked at the way they play,” Russo said. “Once they see a game, they’re hooked.”
For Warner, who also starts at cornerback, the drive runs even deeper than most. Coming out of high school in California, she was considered one of the top long-jump prospects in the country.
Following her freshman year at Washington, Warner won the title at the USA Junior Nationals and took the bronze medal at the 1993 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The 14.14 she ran in the 100-meter hurdles that season was the fifth best in UW history at the time.
Warner appeared to be on the fast track to stardom. Instead, she faded from prominence, finishing a four-year career over five years without much further fanfare.
“I kind of fizzled out,” Warner said. “That was motivation for me to get back in shape when football came around. I wanted a second chance in sports. I don’t feel like I took advantage of my first chance. … I didn’t take it seriously. I really felt this was my second chance.”
Warner, 5 feet 7 and 155 pounds, said her father and brother both played football. She grew to love the game, but never played until 2001 when she tried out for the Seattle Warbirds. That women’s tackle-football franchise folded after one season, but players helped found the Tacoma Majestics the following year. Warner joined the Majestics last year.
The Majestics have clinched their fourth division title in five years. They have the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and have their eyes on their first IWFL championship.
They open the playoffs Saturday at 7 p.m. at Seattle Memorial Stadium against the Sacramento Sirens, who have a 7-1 record.
Warner isn’t ready to fade into the background again.
“I’m just a competitor at heart,” Warner said. “It’s a competitive spirit I was born with. It went away for a while in college. But I feel I was blessed with a certain amount of talent, and unless I’m not able to walk anymore, I’m going to continue to do something physical. Football is the perfect thing, I think.
“And I want to be a part of history.”
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