Sarrut Ouk, 32, loved football growing up, but only got to play it with the neighborhood kids.
“My sisters and I often were the only girls playing, but never opted for two-hand touch. And yes we sometimes make the boys eat dirt,” she said.
“Football wasn’t seen as a girl sport,” she added. “When I was in school, it just wasn’t an opportunity for a girl. And so when I heard about it as an adult, I went all in and don’t expect to go back.”
Ouk is starting her second season with the Madison Blaze – Madison’s professional women’s football team.
The team is currently recruiting new members. Tryouts will be held on Sunday, October 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. and Saturday, October 7 from 10 a.m. to noon at St. Dennis Church, 413 Dempsey Road in Madison.
Women interested in playing football – tackle football, complete with helmets, pads, grunts and hard hits – can show up for tryouts and hopefully play for the Blaze in the spring when the season starts.
Sheena Hirschfield is the marketing director for the Blaze and has been involved with the team since its inception in 2012.
“No football experience is required at all,” she said. “Players of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds are encouraged to try out. We have players that range from 18-50 years-old and that come from all walks of life.”
Ouk works full-time as a project manager for a marketing agency and also works part-time as a dance fitness and hip-hop instructor. She keeps in shape during the off-season by running and biking.
Hirschfield encourages women with curiosity to check it out. Cleats are not required and the tryout is set up like a mini-camp to teach the basics.
“It’s not a grueling test,” said Hirschfield.
“We do have a high turnover from last season to this season with players at retirement age so recruitment is huge for us right now. Many women simply do not know we exist and we are trying to change that,” Hirschfield explained. “We’re looking to fill a roster of 25 to 30 players.”
Women’s professional football has been in Madison since 2006 under a couple different team names. An all-women ownership group consisting of current and former players started the Blaze in 2012.
As part of the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL), their previous league, they won the Founder’s Bowl in 2014 and were 3-time conference champions in the IWFL from 2013-2015.
Hirschfield explained that the Blaze is undergoing changes to help ensure a strong financial future for the team. In 2017, the Blaze joined the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) to play teams closer to home and cut travel costs. The WFA has 65 teams across the United States, and one in Canada. They’ll play in the Great Plains Division, Division 2, against teams such as the Minnesota Machine, the St. Louise Slam and the West Michigan Mayhem, to name a few.
Another big change, she said, is a reorganization to a board-of-director-run non-profit. She stated that the team hopes to raise more money as a non-profit.
“We want to be able to compete with the big dogs like Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh who have large rosters and deep pockets. Our goal is to bring in more sponsorships in order to help take the (financial) weight off of some of the players,” Hirschfield said.
“These women pay to play. They pay their player fees, their equipment, their travel. They participate in off-season yard work and leaf raking to help raise money for their fees. Every season, women choose to not play due to the financial commitment and it is our long-term goal as an organization to prevent money from ever keeping someone from being active and playing a sport they love,” Hirschfield added.
The Blaze season starts in April 2018 and dates for games will be released in December or January. There are typically eight regular season games and then 2-3 postseason games with the winners playing in the ‘W Bowl’. Games are played at Middleton High School and are posted at their website or on Facebook.
Ouk will be ready in April to put her rookie year behind her.
“Playing last season was a whole other experience. There was so much to learn as a rookie and only knowing the sport from watching it on TV and playing it as a kid,” Ouk tells Madison365. “The behind-the-scene practices, studying and training consumed a lot of my time and I loved every bit of it. Suiting up for practice and game days gets my heart racing from excitement and thirst for that ‘W.’ I’ve never pushed my physical and mental strengths so hard before. I feel blessed I am able to play the sport I love.”
For women reading this article and thinking about trying out, Ouk said, “Just do it!”
“For me, I’m 32 and it took this long for me to find it and I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to challenge myself in an amazing sport I love. There’s a lot to gain, not just physical and mental endurance but a family you can’t imagine living without,” Ouk said. “The ladies here are so supportive and caring. We’re there for each other not just for football, but whenever you need someone to help move, dog sit, or eat that last piece that no one ever wants. And speaking of eating, we eat together a lot. We’re at restaurants, grilling out, pot-lucking, all the above.
“Take a leap, you’ll be surprised how much you’ll enjoy it and how much it’ll change your life,” she adds.
More information about the Madison Blaze can be found at www.madisonblazefootball.com or on Facebook.