Chicago Bliss quarterback Heather Furr truly one of a kind

As the Chicago Bliss approach their 2016 season opener, with ambitions towards a fourth consecutive appearance in the Legends Cup finals, such effort may truly be an Amazonian task. Among their loyal fans, there is a tremendous sense of emptiness, sullen feelings, due to the absence of quarterback Heather Furr, whose offseason retirement shall certainly alter the balance of power.

While the LFL stands for Legends Football League, there is no question that Furr embodied the meaning of the word legend.
Definitely the greatest player to have donned the Bliss colors, Furr combined a breathtaking beauty and athletic ability that translated into pulse pounding results, while showing strong leadership and an unwavering loyalty to her team. While many of her contemporaries only played the quarterback position, Furr also excelled as a defensive back. Throughout her career, she would constantly make her presence felt on the league’s leader board in both offensive and defensive categories, enhancing her status as a franchise player.

One of the first superstars in franchise history, she not only helped elevate the quality of football throughout the league, she helped usher in a golden era for female football in Chicago. Along with Samantha Grisafe, a quarterback for the WFA’s Chicago Force, the two field generals consistently kept their club in contention for a championship. The pinnacle of their careers simultaneously took place in 2013, when both achieved the status of champion, as Chicago became the first city to win a WFA and LFL title in the same season.

The jubilation of 2013 would continue with the accomplishment of another title in 2014 for the Bliss. Led by Furr once again, the Bliss would become only the second team in league history to claim consecutive league championships. During this momentous time, Furr’s friendship and loyalty shone through.

Despite an injury nearly ending her career, Alli Alberts would make an amazing comeback, joining Furr in the rarified air of superstardom. Such a rise was not only admirable for her courage to come back after a crushing hit by Ashley Salerno, it was a turning point in franchise history. Alberts would prove to be the final piece in the championship puzzle for the Bliss. Like Furr, Alberts had the ability to excel on both sides of the field.

Such skill placed the Bliss in a position to dethrone the Los Angeles Temptation, and emerge as the league’s finest. Perhaps more importantly, it proved to be the beginning of a strong mutual respect between Alberts and Furr. Of note, Furr became more than just a mentor to Alberts, but a big sister as well. Alberts represented the future of the franchise and the potential to emerge as an ambassador for the league. There is no question that the presence of Furr enabled to both to excel without feeling burdened by the demands of leadership, complementing each other’s skills, yielding winning results.

Quite possibly the greatest quarterback in the history of the LFL, Furr was also a nominee for the league’s Hall of Fame, an honor that must be destined in her future. Part of her legacy in the game was the fact that she also brought instant credibility to LFL Canada. Playing alongside rival Anne Erler (of the Green Bay Chill), the two represented the meaning of dream team as they led the Saskatoon Sirens to the regular season title. Although they only played together in Saskatoon for one season, they certainly made an impression in the football-mad city.

Such an impression was also evident in Chicago as Furr was the only signal caller the franchise ever knew. Although Furr would enhance her status as a pop culture icon as the Bliss were featured on the docu-drama Pretty Strong, there was an ominous foreshadowing. Not only was Furr’s desire to start a family among the themes in the program, a revelation had been made that she briefly retired but returned due to the love of the game. While the program would prove to be her swan song, her legacy with the club shall always remain intact.

Suddenly, the new reality is that the club must move on without Furr, an heiress to her quarterbacking crown not yet definite. During the off-season, the club had acquired “Super” Sindy Cummings, classified as a free agent after the contraction of the Las Vegas Sin. If any quarterback had the potential to ease the transition, it would have been Cummings. After talented signal caller Nikki Johnson (who also played one season in LFL Canada with the Regina Rage) opted for the WFA, Cummings took the reins as a rookie and showed exceptional poise. With great charisma and a fan friendly demeanor, she provided a steady presence on offense for the Sin. The Bliss should have been the extension of her career, helping the Bliss transition into a new era, while allowing her a chance to win a title. Sadly, her “retirement” complicated the quarterbacking picture.

If there is one guarantee for the Bliss this season, it shall be that the organization shall deeply miss her. Although fans can only hope that one day Furr shall return to the game either as a coach or on-air personality, they will always be in gratitude to the exceptional skills that she displayed on the gridiron. Surprisingly, a member of the Bliss was assigned the number 15 this season; Sara Finn. One could argue that only one person in Bliss history deserves to wear the number 15 and that like Furr; the number should also join her in retirement.

Passing of wrestling icon Joanie Laurer a tremendous loss

One of the original and most influential WWE Divas, Joanie Laurer revolutionized the role of women in wrestling, combining strength, beauty and empowerment in an intrigued package. Although her muscular physique and intense physical power were intimidating at first, she would quickly become the focus of many wrestling fan’s crushes, mesmerized by her personality. Known affectionately as the “Ninth Wonder of the World”, she paved the way for the WWE Divas of today while shattering the glass ceiling for female wrestlers of all shapes and sizes.

The news of her passing at her home in Redondo Beach, California has shaken the world of wrestling. Although the cause of her death is still under investigation by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s department, the spectre of disenchantment certainly lingers. For most of the 2000s, the news of wrestlers passing away before the age of 50 was one of the most controversial in all sport. The idea that Joanie Laurer is now part of this group is nothing short of tragic.

Of note, the overwhelming majority of wrestlers that passed on were men. Except for Miss Elizabeth, who was the manager to Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Sensational Sherri (a member of the WWE Hall of Fame), women in wrestling were all but immune to this tragic chapter of wrestling history. Suddenly, Laurer’s passing is a sobering reality.

While she was first introduced to the WWE Universe under the sobriquet Chyna, known as the bodyguard of the game changing D-Generation X, which ushered in the WWE’s Attitude Era, Laurer would become one of the most popular personalities in the promotion, subsequently becoming a pop culture icon, gracing the covers of popular mainstream magazines such as Newsweek and TV Guide. Appearing on the red carpet at the Emmy Awards and on TV in a guest spot on the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun, while receiving countless offers to appear in mainstream movies, she had crossed over into a showbiz realm traditionally occupied by male counterparts such as Hulk Hogan.

Early in Laurer’s tenure in WWE, two career defining moments would embody the spirit of the WWE Attitude. It had become evident that she had underwent a breast enhancement surgical procedure, one that fellow D-Generation X members discussed during one of their sophomoric yet entertaining monologues. Although such enhancements are a stereotype among women in wrestling, there was a unique symbolism, setting the stage for her growing sex appeal, which in turn would make her a fan favorite among both male and female wrestling fans.

The other involved the first time Laurer actually spoke behind the mic. For over a year, her role as Chyna involved a menacing stare and arms crossed, symbolizing that she meant business. The moment that wall crumbled and she began to speak, it added a whole new dimension to her own image while simultaneously increasing the popularity of D-Generation X.

At a time when wrestling’s Monday Night Wars were still being contested, and the wrestling dirt sheets were grist for the ever intriguing rumor mill, it had become commonly known that Laurer was in a relationship with D-Generation X member Triple H. Further reports would suggest that he was the force who enabled her to be hired by WWE.

Their relationship certainly took on a moment of reality in the WWE Universe as distraught wrestlers were visibly shaken by the in-ring passing of Owen Hart. With Laurer at his side, Triple H admirably showed himself at his most vulnerable during his career, tearful during his commentary at the Owen Hart Tribute Show.

Laurer’s popularity would soon propel her into wrestling history on two separate occasions. In 1999, she would become the first female competitor to particiapte in the Royal Rumble. Defeating Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental Championship, she would become the first (and only) woman to hold the title, a remarkable achievement, which helped increase the drawing power of women in wrestling. During that time, many women in wrestling were valets to male wrestlers, an eye candy that usually helped increase the profile of a male wrestler. One could argue that Chyna’s rise to the Intercontinental Championship helped add new credibility to the role of women in wrestling, eventually leading to the WWE establishing a Divas division, one that has flourished in the last decade and a half.

Sadly, Laurer’s wrestling career would plunge into a downward spiral following a highly popular magazine pictorial. Appearing in a complete state of undress, fully frontal in the pages of the iconic Playboy, Laurer redefined what sexy means. She would even acknowledge in an interview with Michael Landsberg on his popular TSN talk show Off The Record that she received positive feedback from women about her pictorial. Taking into account that many women in general experience issues with body image, Laurer was a revelation, exuding confidence and proud of her amazing physique, proving that women of all shapes and sizes deserved to be comfortable in their own skin.

Rumors suggested that some of wrestling’s power brokers were not happy with Laurer’s unforeseen level of popularity and success, while a break-up with Triple H did not soothe such tensions. Instead of being with D-Generation X, she was now in a program with Eddie Guerrero, which was not a good fit for either wrestler. From there, her luster would slowly fade, no longer part of the WWE’s main event picture. Less than three years after her first pictorial for Playboy, Laurer would be out of WWE, disappearing as quickly as she came. Despite appearing in New Japan Pro Wrestling and rumors of offers from TNA Wrestling (which was ironically started by Jarrett), she would never recapture the mat magic of her time in WWE.

Suddenly, Laurer was part of D-list events such as Celebrity boxing, later gaining infamy for starring in adult films. Working in a low budget film with Anna Nicole Smith before her own tragic passing, Laurer would appear on Larry King Live discussing the experience of working with her. In looking at Laurer in the interview, it had become evident that she was no longer the same person. Having seen her weight expand and the loss of her smile, one could not help but feel there was a sad foreshadowing to come.

While Laurer becomes another sad footnote in wrestling’s darkest chapter, she held a profound place in the hearts and minds of many in the wrestling industry during an exceptional four year time span. Although future glories were not meant to be, one cannot dispute that her legacy is one highly deserving of posthumous induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Kori Cheverie a portrait of consistency for Toronto Furies

Epitomizing grace and class, Kori Cheverie is among one of the most valued members of the Toronto Furies. Bringing a solid presence and scoring consistency, her contributions this season were among the highlights for a club that endured its share of struggles.

A charter member of the Furies, Cheverie reached double-digit in points four seasons, highlighted by a career-high 24 points during their inaugural season. Her benchmark of 14 goals was scored in the following season. Having appeared in every playoff game in franchise history, Cheverie is one of the living linkages to the Furies early glory years.

With sporting interests that also extend to beach volleyball, soccer and ball hockey, Cheverie is a well-rounded athlete who has quietly carved an admirable sporting legacy. Cheverie also makes an impact as a skating specialist at Ryerson University, helping to profoundly shape their Skate Training and Hockey Development Program. Working with many players from Lisa Haley’s Ryerson Rams women’s ice hockey squad, her strong knowledge of the game and friendly demeanor have inspired some players from the Rams to pursue their ambitions of professional hockey by registering for the CWHL Draft.

During the 2015-16 Furies season, Cheverie tied alternate captain and rising star Alyssa Baldin for second on team in scoring with 18 points. Of note, she also ranked second in goals and tied with rookie sensation Emily Fulton third in assists. Cheverie would also tie Carolyne Prevost (who also dabbles in CrossFit) in power play goals with three, the highest in one season for her since the 2011-12 campaign.

Among a rare group of Maritimers to have won the Clarkson Cup, hoisting the coveted prize in 2014, Cheverie is among the franchise’s leader in games played (152) and is also the all-time leading scorer, with an incredible 82 points (although Natalie Spooner is close behind with 71 points). As the following season will likely see Cheverie eclipse the 100-point mark, it shall be a fitting milestone in such a distinguished career.

Before coming to the Toronto Furies in their inaugural campaign, Cheverie had assembled an impressive body of work in her home province of Nova Scotia. Raised in New Glasgow, she would suit up for the provincial team in three Esso Women’s Nationals (2005, 2007, and 2008). In addition, she would make her mark with the St. Mary’s Huskies. The first (and only) player in the history of the Atlantic University Sports (AUS) Conference to win three consecutive Marion Hilliard Awards, she would also make an impression in the classroom, where she was an Academic All-Canadian.

Of note, Cheverie is also assembling an impressive body of work on the ball hockey court. With several other women that have graced CWHL ice, Cheverie was part of a roster that competed at the Hockey Night in Canada Play On! Street Hockey Tournament. In addition, she was joined by fellow CWHL star Liz Knox (a goaltender for the Brampton Thunder) and Harvard hockey legend Nicole Corriero with Team Italia at the 2015 ISBHF Women’s Worlds. Although Italia did not enjoy a podium finish, Cheverie was one of the team’s leading scorers, an extension of her international hockey career.

While Furies players such as Natalie Spooner are current members of the Canadian national women’s ice hockey team, a unique fact is that Cheverie also enjoyed that privilege. Among a group of CIS All-Stars that represented Canada in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade, Cheverie would contribute towards a gold medal performance.

Among the season highlights for the Furies in 2015-16, Cheverie played a prominent role, experiencing a pair of career milestones herself. From the outset, Cheverie became the first player in franchise history to reach 80 career points with the club. In addition, she would score the first two game winning goals of her career. Subsequently, she would pace all Furies in this category.

Coincidentally, both game-winning goals occurred in back-to-back games against the Boston Blades. The first game-winner was scored in a February 6 contest which saw the Furies prevail by a 5-0 tally. Of note, Cheverie had logged the game’s first goal. Earning the assists on this landmark goal for Cheverie were the likes of Spooner and Baldin.

The February 7 match involved more flair. In a 5-2 outcome that saw the blue and white pepper Amanda Cariddi with 54 shots, Cheverie scored at the 9:55 mark of the second period as the assists were credited to Spooner and Michelle Bonello.

Complementing such jubilation was the fact that Cheverie would experience the thrill of playing in a regular season game broadcast on national television in partnership with the You Can Play foundation.

Although she would wait until the fifth game of the season to log her first point, she would log at least one point in 12 of the last 20 games of the season. During this stretch, she would assemble a pair of scoring streaks. The first took place from December 5 to December 20, as she logged six points on the strength of four assists in four straight games, which resulted in the Furies enjoying a 3-1-0 mark, including a win against the eventual Clarkson Cup champion Calgary Inferno. In addition, she would close out her sixth Furies season with a three-game streak, compiling five points as the Furies enjoyed a 2-1-0 mark, the one loss taking place in a shootout against archrival Brampton.

Franchise foundations part of inaugural UWLX Draft class

As the UWLX nears closer to its opening day, the 2016 UWLX Draft brought with it a sense of anticipation for its growing fan base, eager to see which of the game’s brightest stars would be landing.

The first round consisted of a phenomenal class as the Boston Storm selected goaltender Liz Hogan. It was a trend that continued as the Long Island Sound obtained legendary goaltender Devon Wills with their first pick. The first female player to sign a contract in the men’s National Lacrosse League, Wills, who also starred with Dartmouth and Team USA is poised to become a star attraction in the incipient league.

Midfielder Katie Schwarzmann would become the first-ever draft pick in Baltimore Ride history, while attacker Michelle Tumolo shall be expected to be a significant part of the offensive attack for the Philly Force. Taking into account their geographic proximity, the Baltimore-Philadelphia rivalry should be among the finest in UWLX, with Schwarzmann and Tumolo headlining many epic contests.

Complete list of picks by team:

Boston Storm
1: Liz Hogan, Goalie
2: Jenn Russell, Defender
3: Sarah Bullard, Midfielder
4: Kara Cannizzaro, Midfielder
5: Erin Slifer, Midfielder
6: Holly Reilly, Defender
7: Danielle Etrasco, Attacker
8: Kailah Kempney, Attacker
9: Kristin Igoe, Midfielder
10: Colleen Magarity, Midfielder

Baltimore Ride
1: Katie Schwarzmann, Midfielder
2: Alex Aust, Attacker
3: Kristen Carr, Defender
4: Brooke Griffin, Attacker
5: Allyson Carey, Midfielder
6: Morgan Stephens, Defender
7: Courtney Swan, Attacker
8: Dana Dobbie, Attacker
9: Beth Glaros, Midfielder
10: Sam Farrell, Defender

Long Island Sound
1: Devon Wills, Goalie
2: Alyssa Leonard, Attacker
3: Shannon Gilroy, Midfielder (Florida)
4: Becca Block, Defender (Syracuse)
5: Megan Douty, Defender (Maryland)
6: Sloane Serpe, Defender (North Carolina)
7: Nora Barry, Midfielder (Florida)
8: Katrina Dowd, Attacker (Northwestern)
9: Katie Rowan, Attacker (Syracuse)
10: Kelly McPartland, Midfielder (Maryland)

Philly Force
1: Michelle Tumolo, Attacker
2: Alyssa Murray, Attacker
3: Kara Mupo, Attacker
4: Bridget Bianco, Goalie
5: Becky Lynch, Attacker
6: Casey Pepperman, Defender
7: Demmianne Cook, Midfielder
8: Katie Hertsch, Defender
9: Emily Garrity, Midfielder
10: Samantha Cermack, Midfielder

Austin Acoustic provide valiant effort in debut game

For any expansion team, the combined feeling of eagerness and nervous energy culminates with its first-ever game. Said game proves to be the litmus test, the opportunity to truly evaluate talent and determine the success of a team. While the Austin Acoustic, one of two new Texas-based expansion teams in the Legends Football League, gained the privilege of participating in the first game of the 2016 season, one could state that it was a baptism of fire.

Kicking off against the defending Legends Cup champion Seattle Mist, it was definitely a “Welcome to the LFL” moment for many of the Acoustic’s first-year players. Taking into account that the match also took place on the road, where the Mist’s fans who regularly pack ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington are the loudest in the league, the Acoustic quickly learned how home field advantage can be crucial towards a team’s success.

Despite the final score displaying a 44-8 victory in favor of the defending champions, there were still many positives for the Acoustic to build on. Statistically, the Acoustic showed strong proficiency on the gridiron. Of note, the Acoustic gained more first downs on offense (7-4), while their passing game was much stronger than the Mist.

Signal caller Teshay Winfrey passed for 78 yards, completing 35% of her passes, while logging a touchdown pass. In addition, she would gain three first downs on passing, compared to just 1 by KK Matheny, a 2015 LFL All-Fantasy selection. Matheny, who donated 100% of proceeds from fan jersey sales to Sienna Strong Against Cancer, only completed 25% of her passes but managed a pair of touchdown passes to Jessica Hopkins, as the strong team chemistry showed.

While Hopkins led all Mist receivers with 39 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, the Acoustic’s Brenda Lynn proved to be the game’s leading receiver. Averaging 14.3 yards per reception, she managed a solid game-high 43 receiving yards. Stephanie Wickett would make her mark, scoring the first touchdown in franchise history with an 18-yard pass from Winfrey. As a side note, Wickett would also contribute 2.5 total tackles.

The key factor that contributed to the Mist victory came down to the rushing game. While the Acoustic’s Jess Powers had a game-high nine rushes, she was continuously pounded by a Mist defense that featured Lashaunda Fowler and 2015 league MVP Danika Brace. Meanwhile, Stevi Schnoor continued to prove why she is the best running back in the LFL. With a superlative 6.1 yards per carry, she anchored the Mist’s running game, shredding through the Acoustic defense for three touchdowns. She would also add to her growing legend by completing a pass for a touchdown.

Although the loss could be classified as a blowout, there was a great personal victory for the Acoustic. On social media, many of the Mist players and coaches showed a touch of class, recognizing the effort exerted by the club in a difficult debut. While the Acoustic may be in the same conference as the Mist, one element that shall never be in dispute is the level of sportsmanship. Mist head coach Chris Michaelson was gracious, showing his recognition of the Acoustic’s effort as part of a social media message recognizing the players and fans,

“I want to give a shout out to Austin Acoustic Head Coach Jericho Harris and his Players for their tenacity and Effort in their first game ever in the LFL — they never quit and continued to compete throughout the game and that will carry this team a long ways … I am confident that he will continue to grow this team and they will be a force to be reckoned with in this league … for all his players I encourage you to see it thru and maintain that desire you had in that game to continue to grow as a team and become better individually as you watch yourselves in film — very proud to see new teams show the heart and determination to compete thru it all … “

Despite such an austere start, there is optimism for the Acoustic and their fans. In the Legends Football League, some expansion teams have managed success early on, such as the Atlanta Steam. Considering that the Steam started out against powerhouses such as the Chicago Bliss and Jacksonville Breeze, it was a climb to contention that consisted of hard work and determination. With such a strong effort on offense, pieces are in place for an ambitious Acoustic team keen to emulate the Steam’s success and establish themselves as a contending club.