Girls-only football camp inspires dozens
By Brian Dzenis
Football isn’t just something on TV for women and girls.
To drive that point home, it helps to see someone who embodies that sentiment.
Jennifer Welter, the first woman to hold a coaching position in the NFL, teamed up with Mahoning Valley native Cynthia Zordich to host the Grrridiron Girls Flag Football Camp on Tuesday at Glacier Field in Struthers.
Welter served as an assistant coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals during the 2015-16 season. She walked the sidelines for three preseason games before her contract expired. She left with positive reviews from Cardinals players and staff. She played women’s football for a decade before entering the coaching world.
“I think her story is very inspiring. She was the first woman to be nationally known [as a female coach],” said Anissia Caban, a 15-year-old student at Youngstown Early College. “I think if she could do it, other women can too.”
Welter and Zordich met at Super Bowl LI in Houston earlier this year. Zordich is the founder of THREAD, a private social network for wives, girlfriends, mothers and daughters of current or former players and coaches in the NFL. She’s married to Michael Zordich, the current defensive backs coach at Michigan.
Their sons, Alex and Michael, were standout players at Cardinal Mooney and played Division I college football at Buffalo and Penn State, respectively. Michael spent time on the practice squads of the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
“I knew [Welter] was coming up for the Hall of Fame festivities in Canton this week. I said, ‘You’re right in Canton, let’s do a camp together,’ ” Zordich said. “The Youngstown girls would love it.”
With some help from Rick Shepas, the sports czar for Youngstown City Schools, Zordich got around 85 campers to Struthers. Denise DeBartolo York and a few area businesses stepped in as sponsors.
For help running the camp, Cynthia had her two sons, their Mooney teammate and former NFL defensive lineman Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, former YSU football player Elliott Giles and ex-NFLers Woodie Pippens and Devin Smith. The owner and head coach of the Women’s Football Alliance’s Toledo Reign, Mitchi Collett, brought a couple of her players to camp.
“It’s great working with the young ones. Being out here with my teammates is like a reunion,” Kitchen said.
Welter said it wasn’t too difficult to relate to the players in Arizona.
“Players want to be great and if you can help them do that, talent is talent. It doesn’t matter what package it comes in. What makes you different is what makes you special,” Welter said. “Those guys listened to me because I was a great football player and the experiences I had or maybe it was because I spoke to them in a different way or had a different perspective.
“It was in addition to an already great staff.”
Welter wasn’t in town just to encourage girls to pursue football. Her story is applicable to women and girls wanting to break into any field.
“I want them to realize anything is possible in this world. There are a lot of people who will tell you what you can’t do. I’m 5-foot-2, 100-some pounds and was nobody’s idea of the best athlete, but everything people told me I shouldn’t do, I did,” Welter said. “It’s easy to fall into hearing what girls can’t do and I want them to have the strength from today to realize that with the right access, opportunities and coaching, there are no limits.”