As the Ottawa Redblacks train for the upcoming CFL season, two women are lending their coaching skills as part of an effort to get more females involved in the league and the sport.
Meagan Ferguson, from Stratford, P.E.I., and Nadia Doucoure, who lives in Ottawa but is originally from France, have been on the field helping coach the Redblacks defence.
Both have extensive backgrounds in the sport. Ferguson started the first women's tackle football team on P.E.I., while Doucoure learned the game in France before moving to Canada and playing here.
"Football was in my family," said Ferguson, whose dad played, and who watched both the Canadian and American versions of the game growing up.
But opportunities for her to play on P.E.I. were in short supply.
"It wasn't quite there when I was growing up. I actually didn't even know female football existed until I moved over to New Brunswick."
Love at first tackle
It was in New Brunswick that Ferguson was invited by a hockey teammate to come out to play football for the first time.
"I thought it was just going to be a touch and toss kind of night, [but it ended up] being full-fledged female tackle football," she said. "[I] fell in love and I wanted to keep involved with it moving forward."
When she returned home to P.E.I., she stayed in the game any way she could — refereeing, coaching, working on executive boards — which led to her coaching at Holland College, and at the provincial level.
We're going to get there. That's why we're here today. — Nadia Doucoure
Doucoure learned the American version of the game in France, but like Ferguson, never had the opportunity to actually play the game.
"I was a ref, I was a coach," she said. "I wasn't a player because I didn't have the chance."
Both women applied for the CFL's Women in Football program. Ferguson was selected and Doucoure volunteered to take part after being denied a spot.
Redblacks defensive co-ordinator Mike Benevides said Doucoure and Ferguson have been working extremely hard during their time with the team.
"They've learned a tremendous amount for themselves in terms of what they want to get for their own resumé," he said.
"But they're [also] applying it to the players, and the players are better off for it because they're great teachers."
Ferguson and Doucoure are hopeful the focus will soon shift from their gender to their skills on the gridiron.
"We won't talk about women within a [man's sport]. We're just going to talk about best coaches, best personnel to run the football program," Doucoure said. "We're going to get there. That's why we're here today."
"Whether it's football or business or any sport at all, I think if you have a passion for something and you have the drive to pursue it, set a goal and see it to believe it, keep driving for the goal and someday it may happen," Ferguson said.
"The opportunities are there and we've just got to be open to them."