Right here in the Tri-Cities exists a football team unlike any other. They are the Tri-Cities Thunder, and they are an all-women’s full contact football team.
These spectacular women range in age from 15, with parent’s permission, to almost 40 years old. The team is comprised of women from all walks of life; there are teachers, active military and landscapers just to name a few. The Tri-Cities Thunder is part of the United States Women’s Football League (USWFL) where there are nine teams spanning seven states. These women play from Detroit to D.C and up and down the east coast.
The Thunder is in its fifth year playing and, in just five years, has racked up quite the impressive reputation. In the first season, the Thunder scored the most points ever in a single season across all women’s leagues in the U.S., and they did it in just the first four games. They have been to the National Championship three times and won in 2017. The Thunder is in the Iron Woman Division and consists of 21 players. They have achieved some inspiring feats in a short amount of time, but one definitely stands out for the team.
This past December, the Thunder was invited to Nissan Stadium in Nashville, home of the Tennessee Titans.
“The team is the first all-women’s team to ever be invited to play at Nissan Stadium,” says Wendy Swiney. “They were able to play after the Colts/Titans game. We were actually accompanied by the cheerleaders from Sullivan East High School, who came to support the team.” That game actually got rained out in the first 8 minutes, so they traveled back March 10 for a rematch. The score ended up being 46-0, with the Thunder storming in and dominating the Knoxville Lightning. That’s not all. The Tri-Cities Thunder was invited back to Nissan Stadium this coming fall.
Of the experience playing at Nissan Stadium, Tri-Cities Thunder owner Jennifer Johnson said, “It was indescribable. To get to play where the pros play and doing what you never thought possible.”
“Being able to play at my age is awesome. Growing up, women were told they couldn’t play football. I started playing later in life, so I am just starting,” Jennifer continues. “People just don’t know it exists. It is amazing to have this opportunity. These are hardworking ladies; they practice regardless of weather. We just need more support from the community.”
The Tri-Cities Thunder practices only once a week on Sundays. And as Jennifer stated, they do so regardless of weather. If it is raining too hard or snowing, they find a gym to practice in. The team is very dedicated to their sport and there are even members that drive to the Tri-Cities once a week from Knoxville and West Virginia to practice with the team.
The Tri-Cities Thunder plays by high school TSSAA rules and just recently moved its home field from Tennessee High to Sullivan East.
If you are a woman interested in playing for the Thunder, know that no player is turned away. Even being a 501(c)(3) non-profit, the Thunder is all about integrity and giving women the chance to do what they have been told numerous times they couldn’t do. A couple of the moms bring their children to watch the practices, which gives them the chance to see their moms hustling, working hard and driving their passion. “It gives the kids the opportunity to say look what my mom is doing!” says Wendy.
Speaking of the children, the Thunder also implements different themed nights into their schedules, such as youth night, cancer night and military night. The Thunder does a lot for the community in terms of giving back. One such way is by offering to go to schools and reading to the kids, offering fundamentals of football camps for young girls and volunteering in their communities. It is a way to connect with neighbors and form that all-important bond within the community.
“Just because we are small doesn’t mean are any less important” says Jennifer. In fact, their record speaks for itself in terms of the work they put in and the pride they bring to the Tri-Cities.
The first game of the 2019 season for the Thunder will be March 30 in Raeford, North Carolina. The first home game at Sullivan East will be April 27, and everyone ages 18 and under will be admitted for free. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. with tailgating events beginning at 5 p.m. Team members invite the community to come out and support this amazing football team right in your backyard!
For more information on the Tri-Cities Thunder, visit their website at www.tricitiesthunder.com and follow them on Facebook (Tri-Cities Thunder Women's Football Team), Instagram (tricitiesthunder17champs) and Twitter (@footballthunder).