After finishing their inaugural 2021 campaign with an unbeaten record in the regular season, the Capital Pioneers — an all women's tackle football team that is a part of the Women's Football Alliance — have begun preparations for the 2022 season. (Courtesy photo)

Rebecca Fineran has always had a passion for football. But after being forced to sit on the sideline for most of her life because of her gender, the Keizer resident decided that she wanted to strive to help women and girls play that game she has loved her whole life.

Fineran is the president of the Salem Women's Football Association, a non-profit that was created in 2019 with the goal of expanding football opportunities for women and girls in the area. Additionally, she plays tight end and defensive line on the Capital Pioneers, an all women's tackle football team that is a part of the Women's Football Alliance — which features teams from Portland, Medford, Eugene and Washington State.

“As a woman, you're told that there's a standard and that you're supposed to look a certain way, even if you're an athlete. Football shows women that, regardless of shape or size, we will find a position for you and you can be good at it,” Fineran said.

In their inaugural 2021 campaign, the Pioneers went 6-0 during the regular season before being knocked out of the playoffs by the Arizona Outcasts. Ten players on the Pioneers were selected to play in the league's All-American games in Canton, Ohio.

Considering that they had less than 20 players on the roster, the first-year success of the Pioneers was quite remarkable. Fineran said that it was the most enjoyable sports experience she has ever had.

“It is the most fun sport I have ever played, and I played a lot of sports growing up. It's amazing. I hope I can keep going for years to come,” Fineran said.

Fineran was contemplating not playing this season and just resuming her duties in the front office. But when she discovered how much she was inspiring her children, she was motivated to keep competing.

“My daughter didn't want me to quit because she wanted to tell people that her mom plays tackle football. I didn't realize how much our families and kids really latched on to it,” Fineran said.

Despite the success of the squad, the biggest issue the Pioneers have faced is generating interest from potential players.

“It can be tough on the women's side because there is less interest. The biggest hurdle has just been getting the word out,” said Steve Polanski, the recruiting coordinator and assistant coach for the Pioneers.

Polanski started last season taking photos for the team, but after watching multiple games and practices, he knew that this was a program he wanted to be a part of.

“This is legit tackle football. The women are so bought in to this opportunity. They want to see this grow and succeed. It is great working with them,” Polanski said.

Polanski has been coaching football at different levels since 1999, but since the majority of women who come out for the team are new to the sport, he prides himself on trying to simplify the game to the players.

“We have to start from scratch with a lot of them, so we need to figure out how to present information at a base level,” Polanski said.

“Coaches need to work with the knowledge that we have, and it takes them a moment to step down. We are super lucky to have the coaches that we have,” Fineran added.

As the president of the Salem Women's Football, Fineran has the goal of starting a tackle football league for girls under the age of 18. But for now, Fineran is fully focused on continuing the success of the Capital Pioneers.

“We have nurses, we have stay at home moms and we have city workers. We are all from different walks of life, but our bond has been incredible,” Fineran said. “There is no experience necessary, so I would encourage any woman with the slightest bit of interest to come check it out.”

“The women really enjoy the camaraderie in a different way. They stick together and are there for each other on and off the field,” Polanski added. “I want the community to get behind these women. Once they get going, they're going to love it.”

Those interested in playing or sponsoring the team should visit the team site for more information. The season opener is April 9.

This article was originally published in the Keizertimes and is reprinted with permission. Contact reporter Matt Rawlings: [email protected]

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