Wednesday, March 4, 2020
In August 2018, Cameron Veal and LaSteven Jackson talked about putting on a women's flag-football game for charity. This discussion laid the foundation for the Mississippi Lady Panthers.
At the urging of Reginia Jackson and other women, the two men began talking about founding a women's tackle-football team. Starting out slowly as they began to recruit players for the team, they soon found several women around the area looking for an outlet for their competitive side that they missed since playing sports in college or high school.
"That first season was unstructured, and we were winging it as we went along," Veal explains. The first game played by the Lady Panthers happened in April of 2019—with 30 women ranging from mid-20s to early 30s hitting the field.
That first team met with success, reaching the conference championship in Reno, Nev., but the game ended in a blowout. Against a seasoned and experienced Reno team, the Panthers were outmatched with just 13 players and one coach able to afford the trip, cutting the team's numbers and versatility.
Heading into its second year as a team, Veal and Jackson are excited about the future of the franchise. The team is set to begin the season with 50 to 60 players, and the core of last year's team is returning to give the Panthers a mix of experienced players and newcomers. In fact, 27 of the 50 to 60 players on this year's team played last year. The team is set to play games at Madison Ridgeland Academy, although the group may play some games at Pearl Youth Field, where they held matches last season.
"We have a great fan base from the first year," Veal says. "Those fans know that our women play all-out and that the games are never boring." The few games the team didn't win last year were close, barring the championship game in Reno.
The women pay dues to play in the Women's National Football Conference. Veal is trying to raise funds so that the women do not have to pay out-of-pocket. "Funding is not our friend right now," Jackson laments. "We offer sponsorships for people to contribute so that these women don't have to pay to play."
All the coaches work as volunteers, coaching for the love of it and for the enjoyment that comes with watching players get better each practice and game rather than for money.
This season, Jackson hopes to improve on the team's constancy throughout the games. The coaching staff is working on incorporating better communication and structure as players learn to finish plays instead of taking plays off.
The Panthers will be broadcast on the Women's National Football Conference website. Games will stream on either the seventh or eighth week of the season. Tickets to games cost around $7 to $10 and can be purchased through the WNFC website. Kickoff for games begins around 6 or 6:30 p.m., with the season opening on Saturday, April 4.
Veal has big dreams for the Panthers. "I hope to get more money because right now the women are paying for a place to play, helmets, referees, travel and more," he says. "I hope to get funding up to the point the women don't have to pay to play but also to let the women have a salary."
For more information on the team or to donate, find the group's Facebook page, which also includes the team's schedule.