South Hills women's passion for football highly visible

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 6:12 p.m.

Kaitlain Niedermeyer is a football lifer; not only as a fan, but a player.

“I played on the community boys' teams when I was 9,” she said. “I stayed with the community team and I was always on the guy's team, even in high school.”

After graduating from Brentwood in 2009, Kaitlain found the perfect opportunity to continue her gridiron addiction — playing for the Pittsburgh Passion of the Independent Women's Football League.

“I heard about the Passion through a friend of my mom's,” Kaitlain said. “I figured I played all the way through high school, I might as well take it to the next level.”

The Passion (3-0) will play in their 2014 home opener at 7 p.m. Saturday at South Side's Cupples Stadium.

As an interior lineman for the past five years, Kaitlain is just one example of women who were former high school and college athletes turning to football.

“We really been very fortunate,” team owner and coach Teresa Conn said. “When people are interested in playing football they find us.”

Just last year, Kaitlain's younger sister Sarah joined the Passion team as a running back after her gymnastics career ended prematurely due to a knee surgery four years ago at age 15.

“(Kaitlain) told me one day her coach said gymnasts are the best athletes,” said Sarah, a 2012 Brentwood grad. “I thought, ‘Why don't I give it a try? If I don't like it, I don't have to keep doing it.' I ended up loving it.”

The Passion have been one of the IWFL's most recognized and successful franchises, winning the 2007 national title, along with four divisional crowns.

Conn, a former player herself, remembers the first tryout in 2002, and believes there's always been a desire for women to play football.

“I was at our very first tryout and there were 350 people there,” Conn recalled. “I think there's always been a lot of interest (in football). I think a lot of people didn't know about us.”

Evidence of an ever-growing interest in the sport is that more younger women are coming out for the team than in previous years.

Early on, Conn says it was more women in their 30's. Now, the player's ages have shifted to early-to-mid-20's.

“Our team has definitely gotten younger,” Conn said.

Kicker Amy Fallon was a soccer coach at Thomas Jefferson when she decided to try out for the team after college.

“I grew up in TJ. It's a big football area,” said Fallon, a 2003 alum. “It's kind of engrained. I wanted to try it.”

Much like her Niedermeyer teammates, Fallon can't imagine what it'd be like had she not joined the Passion.

“It's funny, your common denominator is football,” Fallon said. “It kind of opens up the doors, knocks down barriers, it helps us become better people because you're exposed to different characters, different backgrounds. There are types of things I wouldn't be exposed to if I wasn't involved in football.”

The Passion, who have allowed only 12 points and lead the Mid-Atlantic Division through three games, face the Montreal Blitz in their home opener.

Montreal also is 3-0 and sits atop the North Atlantic Division.

“Football is a big addiction for a lot of people,” Conn said. “If you're a football fan, you're going to find this exciting and impressive.”

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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