SCHENECTADY, NY — The New York Knockout is a women’s semi-professional women’s tackle soccer team, in the Women’s Football Alliance, which plays its home games at Mohonasen High School and includes players from throughout the Capital Region and the -of the.
This is not a story, however, about women playing football. It’s the story of a growing group of women who excel in football.
“We’re a family on and off the court and we face a lot of adversity on both,” Knockout quarterback Eden Messemer said. “People are dealing with family issues, life issues and we always support each other.”
The only requirement to join the team is to be at least 18 years old. Off the court, Knockout players range from college students to full-time working moms.
There are six freshmen on the team this season, including Sarah Pratt of South Glens Falls.
“Coming in, trying to get back into shape, I was really trying to figure out what position I was going to play in,” said Pratt, who has moved from rugby and flag football to tackle. “I think my biggest challenge has been understanding the intricacies of the game. Flag football is very different from tackling football. It’s a game that has so much to do; it’s like a game of chess. Learning what to do and where to be was my biggest challenge.
The majority of the players in the team don’t have any football experience growing up. The experience of being part of a football team would not be complete without coaches who push you to your limits. It was something Pratt quickly realized and came to appreciate as she spent more time with the team.
“The coaches took the time to study the film, to give us the critique of what we need to do on each play,” Pratt said of head coach Lou Butts and his assistants. “Getting yelled at on the sidelines, we’re all tough women and we can handle it. We need it and it’s to make us better. Our coaches are amazing at this and they don’t hold back. They’ll tell us where we need to be and if we’re not there they’ll let us know and we all respect that. It’s one of the best parts of the game and we learn so much more because of it.
While most didn’t have the experience of playing youth football, Messemer is an exception to that, who comes from a family of hardened footballers. His mother, Melissa, is also a member and former owner of Knockout.
“I’ve been in football all my life, but it’s really great that we’re reaching a lot of young players and getting them interested in the game,” said Eden, who attends Siena College. “Girls who haven’t had a chance to play at the Pop Warner level now have a chance here.”
After growing up in the youth levels and attempting to play school football at Schalmont, Messemer eventually turned to football, where she played for her current Knockout teammate Alaina Lange. With his height being the main reason football didn’t work out in high school, the Knockout quarterback now has a team of his own.
“Hopefully we can start teaching people football as they grow up, so they don’t have to start twenty years after wanting to,” Eden added.
Lange, the former Schalmont girls’ football coach and current coach at Lansingburgh High School, is an All-American, playing just about every role his team needs.
“Honestly, football was just something I did for fun with the boys, growing up. We just played during recess on the playground,” Lange said of how she started playing. “In college, this group I worked with at TGI Fridays would go out and play tackle football – in the snow. It was just for fun, until I met the Messemers.”
Lange played women’s soccer at the College of Saint Rose from 2005 to 2007. The former Golden Knight is listed as a free safety, but is also the team’s kicker, punter and wide receiver.
For Lange, playing football is a way of showing his footballers that they can do whatever they want.
“They love it,” Lange said of her Lansingburgh women’s soccer team. “The fact that I can go out there and do something that not many girls think they have the opportunity to do, it shows that there are so many opportunities and avenues they can take. The Football is not just a sport for men. It’s a sport that anyone can play – and play at a high level. Even if it’s not football, you can play any sport and have that outlet to be as tough and as strong as you want.
While Lange was sidelined last week with a foot and ankle injury, it was Hannah Bowen (Batavia) who took over. Normally just a defensive back and resuscitator, Bowen went two-for-two on the PATs and took over from Messemer at quarterback, with the Knockout leading the way.
The 2020 Knockout season has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the Knockout returned to the field in 2021, they have dominated. They’ve gone 11-1 since last year. Their only loss came in the Division 3 semi-final last season against Derby City Dynamite, who have now moved up a class to Division 2 for the 2022 season.
“We carried over a lot of the positivity from last season,” Messemer said. “We finished on a very high note. We went 7-1 and carried that over to this season and continued to build on that.
So far, the Knockout are 4-0 this year, outscoring their opponents by a 128-18 margin.
“For us, it’s a health thing,” head coach Lou Butts said of the keys to the rest of the season. “I really like our team from top to bottom. I think we have a roster that can compete with any division in our league. We have talented offensive lines and skill positions. Our defense is playing lights in right now. It’s just a matter of rest and staying healthy.
The game of football goes with injuries and part of the game is learning that ‘next man (women)’ mentality.
“It’s been a war of attrition, ever since the NFL,” Butts said. “Here is the experience of learning to play through bumps and bruises. Learning to play when your number is called. Maybe the person in front of you is breaking down. Over the past two weeks, We had a bunch of new offensive linemen and receivers They had to step in and they did We do very little I want to block the area way up front I want our fullbacks and receivers be aligned and do the right missions. With the small amount we do, we just have to perfect that and I think that’s a big reason why we’re 11-1 over the last two years.
Some of these linemen include Victoria Kelts-Martin (East Greenbush), Alexis Bell (Albany), Cassandra Manny (East Greenbush/ HVCC) and Laura Niemiec (Rensselaer/ HVCC).
Quilma Colon (Albany) is a wide receiver and Vic Johnson (Troy/Sage) plays defensive back.
The WFA Division 3 tier is split into four conferences: Southeast, Midwest, Pacific, and Northeast, where the Knockouts play. There are 26 teams in total, including nine in the North East.
At the end of the season, Northeast takes on Southeastern and Midwest takes on Pacific in the semi-finals, with the winners advancing to the national championship in Canton, Ohio.
“Canton. 100%,” Messemer said of the team’s goals. “We want to go all the way”
RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE
The Knockouts, who are resting this weekend, dedicated their final game on Saturday, May 7 at the Capital Region’s Ronald McDonald House.
The team usually organizes fundraisers every year. This year the organization was chosen in memory of Coach Butts’ son, LB.
“Being a women’s football team, we have chosen women’s organizations in the past. We did Girls Inc, Northeast Parent and Child and this year we did Ronald McDonald House because they’re close to my heart,” Butts said. “My son 14 years ago was diagnosed with MPS3, a rare fetal disease that stores glucose in the wrong places. For this reason you need a bone marrow transplant. We went to the best place in the country to get the transplant, University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.
The butts continued.
“Getting another apartment was not feasible for us. We have stayed at the Ronald McDonald House the entire time. They meet all of your needs when your child is hospitalized. Schooling of your other children, meals, journey to the hospital, journeys to airports; they are there for everything in your worst possible moments.
The fundraiser raised $3,558 for Ronald McDonald House.
“It’s been a few weeks. We’ve been planning this for some time,” Messemer said of the fundraiser. “It means more than anything to Lou and his family. Ronald McDonald Houses, like sports for many people, can provide that relief and can be there for you when you need it. They can take care of the little things, so you can take care of the big things.