Generals make history with first female U18 football championship in SK

First ever U18 girls Canada Cup planned for Regina this summer

November 8, 2021, 2:02 pm
Kara Kinna

The Generals celebrating their championship. In centre is Emry Habgewachs, one of the veteran players on the girls teams who drove from Saskatoon to finish out the season with the team. Kim Poole photo.

There were a lot of firsts on Sunday, October 31—the first U18 female football team in Saskatchewan claiming the first female U18 championship in the first female U18 league in Saskatchewan.

The 26-18 win for the Moosomin Generals girls team that day over the Yorkton Lady Gridders on home turf in Moosomin also marked the very first league championship for the Moosomin Generals program since it began in 2011.

While girls have always been part of the Generals football program, it wasn’t until 2017 that the Generals began working on forming a girls-only team. By 2018 there were enough girls on board to play an exhibition season, and in 2019 the Prairie Girls Football League was formed after a number of other communities in Saskatchewan had formed their own girls football teams—enough to put a league together.

The girls were able to play a fall season in 2019, but Covid put a halt to any real league play in 2020, with 2021 marking the very first full season for the PGFL, and the very first run for a PGFL championship.

Now, plans are also in the works for the first-ever U18 Girls Canada Cup to be hosted in Regina—something that has come out of the push for football in Saskatchewan, with the different coaches and football organizations across the country starting to talk to each other about further developments in girls football.

The Moosomin Generals finished first in the PGFL regular season before their championship game over the Gridders on October 31. It was a sweet moment for many on the team as they realized they had made history that day.

“It felt absolutely incredible, a feeling I haven’t felt before, just so much happiness and pride,” says Grade 10 student and Generals player Shaughny Fingas who joined the team two years ago. “Pride was definitely the one thing that you felt the most.

“It was surreal for a few minutes. You didn’t believe you did it until you finally got to hold the trophy in your hand. And that was the best feeling ever.

“I think it’s a pretty big deal. If you would have asked me when I was little or a few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be playing football for the life of me. To think about the number of women that are in football right now in Saskatchewan, it’s pretty amazing to think about. So to have the first ever U18 championship for girls in Saskatchewan and holding that title—to me that would be a pretty big deal.”

Why is it so important to Fingas that girls get their moment in the sun when it comes to football?

“Diversity,” she says. “You always see boys playing football and girls generally in dance here, or they are cheerleading, so to show that girls can do something just as great as guys can do, even at an age this young, it’s really inspirational in many ways.”

Fingas says she was encouraged by some of the Generals and one of her teachers to join the team.

“They bugged me about it for over a year, and so I finally gave in to that pressure and came and watched a practice. I watched the practice and realized how united a team they were and how much of a family they seemed to be and I just wanted to be part of something like that.

“I hate to say it but I love the aggression. This is the one place I can hit someone and not get in trouble.

“You feel so much support from everyone, and you really do feel like a family and there’s no denying that.”

Fingas says she’s thrilled that there is now talk of hosting a U18 Canada Cup for girls.

“I think it’s amazing,” she says. “All these new things are coming up this year for women’s football. And last year with one of the girls being the first to play on a boys team at a college level, you just feel so much second-hand power from these things, and it think it’s very inspirational for many people.

“I’m hoping they transfer into university so we can have university teams. I think that would be amazing. Then I can carry on and play. Because as of right now, after high school, in Saskatchewan there are only two places you can go. And that’s the Riot or the Valkyries in Regina or Saskatoon. But if you were to go to Ontario, there’s nothing really there for you. So I’m hoping it expands more.

“I love it so much and it really teaches you a lot and I think that’s really important. Playing football is unlike playing any other sport. You need to be more of a team than any other sport. That’s probably one of the most important parts of football. The only way you can get a touchdown is if your O-Line blocks for you. And the only way you can stop them from getting a touchdown is if someone calls out where the ball is going and you need multiple eyes everywhere.”

Fingas says it was in everyone’s minds the day of the PGFL championship game that they were making history.

“We definitely all knew it before the game, that was in all of our heads, we knew that was what we were here to do, but it was surreal. You never really knew what was happening until you saw that cup in your hand. And once you hold it you just feel so proud of yourself. And I don’t think we realized how big that was for us. Moosomin was the first girls team in Saskatchewan and we are now the first one to win in the girls U18 championships. So the more you think about it, the more pride you get because we are one of those first females.

“We are all so proud and thankful that we came together as a team and accomplished one of our hopes and dreams.”

Emry Halbgewachs was one of the first female players on the Generals all-girls team when it was formed in 2017. Halbgewachs is from Carlyle, but has since moved to Saskatoon. Now in her Grade 12 year, this is her last season of football. She spent the fall driving to Moosomin from Saskatoon to compete with the Generals and finish out the season.

“I kind of helped start the girls team there and it was really cool that they got to play for a championship this year because every other year they haven’t had one and I just wanted to be a part of that, so I drove back,” she says.

“It was pretty cool, it was pretty amazing,” she says of winning the championship. “It was also my last high school football game. It felt really good because I knew we could do it and then we actually accomplished it.”

She says claiming the first-ever girls U18 championship in Saskatchewan made it that much better.

“That was a very cool aspect of it because we were making history for girls football in Saskatchewan,” she says.

“It’s cool to see all the different girls teams that are starting up and all the girls that are getting involved in the sport. Before there were some girls playing but it wasn’t a huge option. It’s a great sport for girls and guys. I think girls are just as good as it so they should get the opportunity to play too.

“I love playing it and the physical aspect of it, and also the family aspect you get from being a part of a team and working together. In football you really do have to work together as a team because you can’t really do anything if the person beside you doesn’t do their job and you have to trust that they are going to do that.”

Halbgewachs says the creation of a U18 girls Canada Cup is exciting.

“I’m very excited about that. I got to participate in the U18 Red River Cup that they did in 2019 and then they stopped because of Covid. I’m excited to hopefully be able to participate in it this summer and play with a bunch of girls from all over Canada. It will be a very cool opportunity.”

She says she plans to continue playing football after she graduates.

“I’m hopefully going to keep playing and play for the Saskatoon Valkyrie, and then somewhere down the line hopefully I’ll get to try for Team Sask and Team Canada.

“I hope girls football keeps growing and that more towns start to have football, and hopefully they will start up a U18 girls football team in Saskatoon and in other cities and they will have more than just one league. Hopefully it keeps expanding and more people get interested in it and come out to support girls.”

Telisa McGonigal was the very first Generals female football players. She started playing with the Generals in 2011, the lone girl on a team of all boys.

McGonigal has come back to coach the Generals girls team for the second year now, along with some other female Generals alumni, including Miranda Shaw who is planning to play for the Regina Riot and try out for Team Canada to go to Finland in 2022, Jorja Swanson, and Sydney Schenn, also a member of the Riot looking to make team Canada and go to Finland in 2022.

McGonigal is a member of the Regina Riot and is a Western Women’s Canadian Football League champion.

“I want to give back to the football community,” she says. “It’s great to see the female aspect of the sport growing so much. It was a very easy decision to want to coach for the girls.

“When I started playing I didn’t think there ever would be a girls league. It would have been nice to see a couple other girls players, but I never thought there would actually be girls teams and a girls league that would develop. It’s great to see that that female sport is growing, and very rapidly, and so much in the last couple years.

“It was absolutely fantastic seeing them win the championship. Seeing these girls develop over the season has been amazing, and to see all their hard work pay off for them this year was just the cherry on top of the season. Whether or not they had won or lost that final game, they played their hearts out, and it was a very heartwarming moment to see where it started to where it finished, being the first champions of the Prairie Girls Football League.
“(General Manager) Jason (Schenn) and (Head Coach) Dexter (Mondor) have done so much work getting this going, so it was good to win, to give back to them, to prove that we are here and we are going to be on top.

“Football is a sport where there is a place for everybody on the team. It’s not a sport where you have to be the fast runner or the super athletic agility person. There is a spot for bigger girls that are big and tough and then there is a spot for the girls that are small and fast. It’s a good sport that is very welcoming to everybody. It’s nice to see a female sport that allows different types of girls and body types and abilities actually be part of a tem and sport and work towards something.”

McGonigal is hoping to be part of the coaching staff for the U18 Canada Girls Cup.

“It’s another thing that is great, to be able to compete against teams from across Canada. I am hoping that I can also be on the coaching staff for that. That will be a great thing when it comes around,” she says. “It will definitely be great to see that happen and get all those girls to see that we might be the first ones here, but we’re not the only ones, and you need to keep working and driving and break these glass ceilings and show that girls can do these things that typically it was thought only males could do.”

Jason Schenn, the General Manager of the Moosomin Generals program, says there has been steady growth in girls football in Saskatchewan with the formation of new teams, and across Canada with the formation of new U18 leagues in places like Alberta. While some programs are more established, such as the Manitoba Girls Football Association, others are brand new.

Schenn spearheaded the girls team in Moosomin and encouraged other communities in Saskatchewan to start teams so that the PGFL could be formed.

“It’s finally starting to take off,” he says. “It’s been a lot of work. That inaugural U18 tournament that we did in 2018 that was kind of the catalyst here. They really have things moving nationally and now Football Canada’s on board and they’re prepared to actually do a full fledged U18 Girls Canada Cup. They have that established in the boys in U16 and U18 and U20 for many, many years. It’s just never been able to get traction with Football Canada, (for the girls), and once we got ours going we said we’re not stopping. After a bunch of discussions we decided we’re ready and prepared. They’ve created some women in football positions within their organization as well to promote the game. So now they’re fully on on board.

“This was supposed to actually happen in 2020 and that got shut down due to Covid and then we were going to take another run at it this year at the Canada Cup but then again, Covid disrupted that. So now we’re looking down the barrel of 2022, and it looks like Dexter and I are going to be involved on the organizing committee for that as well. So we’ll hopefully finally get this out the gate and a reality.

“We’ve had conversations with Quebec and Ontario and New Brunswick and Alberta to get programs going. So we might have representation from all those provinces in this tournament next summer.”

The very first U18 girls Canada Cup would be hosted in Regina this summer.

Schenn says it was big for both the girls team and the Generals program in general to win the PGFL championship on October 31.

“It’s huge. We’ve been at this now 11 years with the Generals and we haven’t ever been able to win a championship yet,” he says. “We’ve had good players, good athletes, good teams, but we’ve just never been able to get over that final hump to say look we finally have a championship team and we can hang a banner.

“This one’s kind of special in a way because of the historical significance of it, being the first U18 girls in Saskatchewan and that happening right here on our turf and us winning. That’s kind of the trifecta of all the things that you want. It’s a validation for the program. The work we’re doing is training these kids to be pretty decent football players and hopefully being good adults beyond the game as well, young adults. It’s validation for the coaches and the work they put in to be able to say we finally did it.

“It’s breaking that goose egg. That’s the first one, now everybody has something to work for because now they know what it feels like. It’s pretty special.”