SCHENECTADY, NY — The New York Knockout are a semi-professional women’s tackle football team in the Women’s Football Alliance playing their home games at Mohonasen High School and include players from across the capital area and beyond.
However, this is not a story about women who just happen to play soccer. This is a story about a growing group of women who are excelling in football.
“We’re a family on and off the field and we have to deal with a lot of adversity on both sides,” said Knockouts quarterback Eden Messemer. “People deal with family issues, with life issues, and we always have each other’s backs.”
The only requirement to join the team is to be at least 18 years old. Off the field, knockout players range from college students to moms with full-time jobs.
There are six freshmen on the team this season, including Sarah Pratt, who hails from South Glens Falls.
“When I came in and tried to get back into shape, I was really trying to figure out what position I was going to play,” said Pratt, who moved up from playing rugby and flag football to tackle. “I think my biggest struggle was figuring out the intricacies of the game. Flag football is very different from tackle football. It’s a game that has so much going for it; it’s like a chess game. Learning what to do and where to be has been my biggest challenge.”
A majority of the players on the team have no experience of playing football growing up. The experience of being part of a soccer team would not be complete without coaches to push you to your limits. It was something Pratt soon recognized and appreciated as she spent more time with the team.
“The coaches took the time to study the film to critique us about what we have to do on each piece,” Pratt said of head coach Lou Butts and his assistants. “When we’re being yelled at on the sidelines, we’re all tough women and we can handle it. We need it and it should make us better. Our coaches are great at it 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 playing and we learn so much more from it.”
While most don’t have the youth football experience, Messemer is an exception as he comes from a die-hard footballing family. Her mother, Melissa, is also a member and former owner of the Knockout.
“I’ve been involved with football my whole life but it’s really great that we’re reaching out to a lot of younger players and getting them interested in the game,” said Eden, who attends Siena College. “Girls who didn’t have the chance to play at Pop Warner level are now getting the chance here.”
After growing up growing up trying to play school football at Schalmont, Messemer eventually turned to football where she played for current knockout teammate Alaina Lange. With her size being the main reason football didn’t work in high school, the knockout quarterback now has a team to call her own.
“I hope we can start teaching people football while they’re growing up so they don’t have to start twenty years later than they wanted to,” added Eden.
Lange, the former Schalmont girls soccer coach and current coach at Lansingburgh High School, is an All-American who plays pretty much any role her team calls for.
“Frankly, football was just something I did with the boys for fun growing up. We only played on the playground during the break,” says Lange, explaining how she got into playing soccer. “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 achieve anything they put their minds to.
“They absolutely love it,” Lange said of her girls’ soccer team in Lansingburgh. “The fact that I can go out there and do something that not many girls think they have the ability to do shows that there are so many options and paths that they can take. Football is not just a male sport. It’s a sport that anyone can practice – and at a high level. Even if it’s not football, you can play any sport and be as tough and strong as you want.
After Lange was out last week with a foot/ankle injury, it was Hannah Bowen (Batavia) who took over the kicking duties. Normally just a defender and revitalizer, Bowen went two-for-two with PATs and took on Messemer as quarterback with the knockout leading big.
WAYS TO WIN
The 2020 knockout season has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have dominated since the knockout returned to the field in 2021. They’ve gone 11-1 since last year. Their only loss came last season in the Division 3 semi-finals against Derby City Dynamite, who have now been promoted up a notch to Division 2 for the 2022 season.
“We took a lot of positive things with us from last season,” said Messemer. “We ended on a really high note. We won 7-1 and we carried that over to this season and continued to build on it.”
So far this year, the knockout is 4-0, outscoring the opponents by a margin of 128-18.
“For us, it’s about staying healthy,” 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 squad that can compete with any division in our league. We have talented offense and skill positions. Our defense is playing light right now. It’s just about resting and staying healthy.”
The game of football goes hand-in-hand with injuries, and part of the game is learning that “closest man (women)” mentality.
“It’s a war of attrition from the NFL down,” Butts said. Learn to play when your number is called. Maybe the person in front of you falls to the ground. In the last two weeks we’ve had a lot of new offensive linemen and receivers. They had to step up and they did. We do a very small amount of stuff. I want to create a zone lock far ahead. I want our backs and receivers to be aligned and doing the right jobs. With the small amount we’re putting in we just have to perfect that and I think that’s a big reason we’ve been 11-1 for the last two years.
Some of these linemen are 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) is a defensive tackle.
The WFA Division 3 level is divided into four conferences: Southeast, Midwest, Pacific, and Northeast, where the Knockout play. There are 26 teams in total, nine of which are in the Northeast.
At the end of the season, the Northeast plays the Southeast and the Midwest plays the Pacific in a semifinal round, with the winners advancing to the National Championship in Canton, Ohio.
“Canton. 100 percent,” said Messemer about the team’s goals. “We want to go all the way”
RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE
The Knockout, who play bye this weekend, dedicated their last game on Saturday May 7th to the Ronald McDonald House in the Capital Region.
The team typically runs fundraisers each year. This year the organization was chosen in memory of Coach Butts’ son, LB.
“As a women’s soccer team, we have historically opted for women’s organizations. We did Girls Inc, Northeast Parent and Child and this year we did Ronald McDonald House because they’re very close to my heart,” Butts said. “My son was diagnosed 14 years ago with MPS3, a rare fetal disease where glucose is stored in the wrong places. Because of this, you need a bone marrow transplant. We went to the best place in the country to get the transplant, the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.”
“Getting another apartment was not feasible for us. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House the whole time. They attend to your every need when your child is in the hospital. school tuition for your other children, meals, trips to the hospital, trips to airports; They are there for you in your worst moments.”
The fundraiser raised $3,558 for the Ronald McDonald House.
“It’s the last few weeks. We’ve been planning this for a while,” Messemer said of the fundraiser. “It means more to Lou and his family than anything. Just like sport, the Ronald McDonald House can offer this relief for many people and be there for you when you need it. You can take care of the little things so you can take care of the big things.”