The Mile High Blaze is Denver’s Rodney Dangerfield sport. On Thursday night, the best local sports team you’ve never heard of was kicked off their training ground by a flag football team that had a real license to play.
Not serious. They got rid of the disrespect, took their soccer ball and found another place to perform final exercises without leggings…two days before playing for the Women’s Football Association National Championship.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve shoveled snow from that field,” said head coach Rob Sandlin. He was head coach of the Blazes for four of his eight years with the team, and this is the first time they have advanced to the national championship.
They have come close in the past two years, only to lose in the semi-finals.
Sandlin said this year was one of validation for him and for the entire Mile High Blaze organization, from owner to coaches, fans and, of course, his players. “I like coaching women because they listen. They have a passion for learning the game.”
Before him are ladies of all shapes and sizes from 5’2″ to 6 feet tall, 125 pounds to 300 depending on position. They range in age from 16 to 52.
Depending on how they’re coping with injuries, the list has held up to 30 women this year. But it’s not the NFL. These women are volunteers who pay $400 for a spot on the team. They open their purses to shell out hundreds for helmets, pads, crampons and travel.
Eight dedicated volunteer coaches, mostly men, make Mile High Blaze their own.
And they like to scream.
“This team is going to play dirty!” warned Donnie McElroy to a circle of mostly delighted dirt-stained women, one in a neon green skort. “If they want to play dirty, don’t come to me!” These referees have no sympathy.
“Yeah, they pull our hair or they grab our jerseys, lock you in the back or cut your knees,” said Stephanie “The Scrapper” Skinner, 5’3 ½,” 130, also an MMA fighter. And a Starbucks Barista that makes an average dry cappuccino. “But we’ll deal with it. It’s our Super Bowl.”
Call them the Imperturbable Blaze. After losing just once and winning half a dozen games this year, their defining performance of the 2022 season came a few weeks ago when 1,000 fans watched them strangle Houston Energy for the conference championship. American and a trip to Canton, Ohio.
“We walked into the locker room, someone turned on Queen’s ‘We Are the Champions’, and everyone started singing the ballad. People were holding back the tears and the happiness we had made as far as we could go. had done,” Skinner said.
The Mile High Blaze is a Women’s Football Alliance Division 2 professional women’s soccer team, playing their home games at the Aurora Public School Stadium at Hinkley High School.
Saturday at 6 p.m. EDT, they will face the Derby City Dynamite of Louisville Kentucky, in the 10th annual WFA National Championship game.
The Blaze are third in the league in total points on offense, scoring 30 points per game. They are second to the New York Wolves in points allowed with 8.6 points per game.
They are high school students, nurses, teachers, firefighters and parole officers. There’s a mother-daughter duo and “The Wonder Twins,” Valerie and Priscilla Garcia, who are identical except for their hairstyles.
On offense, Valerie at the back blocks for her running sister and averages 8 yards per carry. On defense, they play linebacker and linebacker, which is quite an interesting strategy when their hair is hidden under a football helmet.
“We play in sync. In defense, we are unstoppable. You can’t get around us,” said first-born and primary conversationalist Valerie. Sometimes the coach drives them to the same side and other times they act as identical defensive markers: same height and almost the same weight.
Much like the NFL, the WFA plays in stadiums with certified referees, has cheerleaders, and offers diamond-set championship rings. Players are checked for steroids.
Beneath a perfectly washed-out summer evening on a grass training ground so soft it beckoned with bare toes, three little girls watched their recently adopted Aunt Paula end up carrying them home . Lamilea, nine, poked her head where red and blue beads swayed on a tic-tac-toe of braids.
“These are good luck charms,” she said. “They won the last two games when I wore them.”
“We also won every game before that,” chided Paula “Grandma” Barnett. The oldest player on the team stood as still as possible with a three-year-old hanging like a gymnast from her thigh. His pink t-shirt said “Own it”.
But these aren’t pampered male players with multimillion-dollar NFL contracts and endorsements. They would gladly accept abandoned equipment from their male counterparts. They know that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s Athlete Foundation provided a $10,000 grant to WFA Division 1 champion Boston Renegades.
The Broncos’ only decision to support the Mile High Blaze was to give them a signed Philip Lindsey football for an auction they held a few years ago.
“It sucks. It really does,” team owner Wyn Flato said. sadness.
The team colors are orange and blue. The logo on their helmets is a fierce bronco with a flaming mane.
About this story of respect. It may not be the Stanley Cup, but this season the Mile High Blaze got fans into the stands as they pounded the pavement. They promoted their games on social media, posted flyers around town, and invited friends and family to invite friends and family.
Tomorrow night prepare to rumble. Says Valérie Garcia, the most talkative twin: “My brother told me that if you don’t win, don’t come home! I have to win to be able to go home.
Watch the game live here at 4 p.m. MDT: