TELLING HER STORY
PROFILES OF WOMEN CHANGING THE GAME
Women's Tackle Herstory made in China:
The Mulan Bowl & Training Camp
September 14, 2023
A first ever event of it's kind was held in the country of China from August 25-27, 2023 in the city of Tianjin. The Mulan Bowl and Training Camp was held in Dajili Stadium and the format was very similar to that of the Women's World Football Games (WWFG) which was held in various NFL practice venues for 4 consecutive years from 2015 - 2018. That event was the brainchild of Samantha Rapoport - our very first Game Changer recipient back in 2016.
Minmin Zhao, one of the organizers of the Mulan Bowl, participated in WWFG and has been inspired ever since to bring an event like this to the young girls in her home country of China. Xiaojing Zhang was the "initiator" of the Mulan Bowl and together with Minmin, they made their dream of creating a space for women to learn and play tackle football - with other women. Minmin states that her "goal is to spark greater interest in starting up women’s teams around the country to allow for those who play – the vast majority of whom are only “training” with men’s teams – to instead play on all-women’s teams. Those who practice with the men’s teams have only rare opportunities to play on gameday due to the obvious risk of serious injury. Playing on a women’s team would change all of that.”
Over 45 female players – ages 18 – older – were coached up on basic position techniques, ran through skill group training, had chalkboard sessions, scrimmaged and learned the playbook for the final game that was held on Sunday.
Very impressive is the fact that the organizers managed to secure enough sponsorship from local corporations and businesses to hold event the for FREE to the participants AND include lodging and meals throughout the entire weekend.
2023 Mulan Bowl and Training Camp Coaching Staff
Head Coach / Defensive Coordinator: Xin Xu (Zhuhai)
Offensive Coordinator & Wide Receivers: Zhen Ma (Shanghai)
QB’s: Wengang Xia (Guangzhou)
Defensive Backs: Kaijie Xia (Hangzhou)
Linebackers: Keda Liu (Beijing)
Special Teams: Wei Cao (Beijing)
Running Backs: Minmin Zhao (Sweden)
Offensive Line: Guri Su (Inner Mongolia)
Minmin is passionate about this game, just as we are here at the Women’s Gridiron Foundation. She also understands the incredible opportunity that exists for girls/women to gain confidence and positive self-esteem by way of learning how to play this amazing game that gives back so much to those who give it their all.
A few more thoughts from Minmin:
“This is the first time that Chinese girls were able train and compete together in their own country. In just three days, I witnessed such incredible perseverance, hard work, and passion. The girls learned many new things from our coaching staff and I watched this deepen their love for the game right before my eyes.”
“We are committed to holding this training camp and competition on a consistent basis so Chinese girls can learn the game more systematically and improve themselves continuously. In that vein we have already begun preparing for next year’s event and will share more details soon!”
Congratulations, Minmin and Xiaojing, on a very successful first event. We support you in your continued efforts to expand the growth of the women’s game in China and are honored that you chose us to share this HERstory with our supporters and followers.
- Dana Sparling
WGF Executive Director
Herstory Made in Norway
The Football Story of Jenny Widding
Our foundation is proud to introduce second season Head Coach, Jenny Widding, who is - to the best of our knowledge - the VERY FIRST FEMALE HEAD COACH, OF A MEN’S TACKLE FOOTBALL TEAM, IN THE WORLD, TO WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP.
Hailing from the beautiful country of Norway, the Eidsvoll 1814’s championship mission was achieved on October 16th of this year - in a thrilling overtime finish - with a final score of 35-28.
The organization was founded by Kenneth Anderson in 1995. They won their first D1 championship in 2001, another in 2013, and their most recent, with Coach Widding at the helm. The 1814’s are members of the NAIF. Their name is taken from the signing of the Constitution of Norway at Eidsvoll in 1814.
Here’s a bit more about Coach Jenny Widding’s journey to achieving HERstory…..
Jenny was first introduced to football in 1995 by a friend, in the country in which she grew up: Sweden. Women's tackle football teams didn’t exist at that time so Jenny followed and learned the (men’s) game from the sidelines and also practiced with them at times.
Fast forward 20 years to 2015: Jenny moved to Norway and became involved with the 1814’s when her children started playing football. Since that time, she has coached all age-groups within the organization. She loves the “mix between tactics, the x's and o's and the strength and athletic (ability) it takes to execute on the field.” Coach Widding believes “there’s no room for big egos,” especially in a game like football, where working together as a team is so essential to the successful execution of plays." The time and dedication it takes to be a good player and/or coach makes the dynamic within the team unique and that's something I've never found in any other team sport I've been involved with,” she says.
Jenny decided to put on the pads and play alongside women in 2017, when she was invited to coach at a training camp for the only woman's team in Norway at that time - the Vålerenga Trolls. Jenny admitted that she “put on the cleats and pads, mostly to show myself that I wasn’t too old to play!” In 2019, she “had the privilege of playing in the Swedish superserie (Super Series) with the Carlstad Crusaders” and together, they won a national championship.
Walking a mile in a player’s cleats, while time well spent, Coach Widding’s true love has always been coaching and teaching this incredible game. She is passionate about supporting players as they develop both their football skills and their life skills. Many of her current D1 Senior Elite players are those she has coached since they were young boys (11 and under). Jenny considers it an absolute privilege to have been a part of their lives for so many years. She is wholeheartedly committed to their overall personal development.
Offensive Coordinator Kris Ceballos , is in his third year with the 1814’s, and just finished out his first season in the OC role at the Elite Level (AND as a National Champion let’s no less)!! He’s been coaching with the organization in an official capacity since 2012. His first reaction to hearing that Jenny would be the next HC was, "This is the right choice! “I had been waiting for this news for a long time. Jenny has been a part of the group for many years and the team knows what kind of person and coach she is, so in a way we'd all been waiting for this news.” He also shared with us that, “there really is no difference in coaching alongside a man or a woman. Coach Jenny has the same qualities as other male coaches and some different approaches that make her a unique coach. She's proven that by winning the Norwegian Championship.” Kris adds that she brings so much to the table: “efficiency in all she does,” structure, she anticipates, is proactive, “and detail oriented in all of aspects” of the game including “off/preseason programs, teaching leadership and sports mentality.”
According to center Richard Queen – a U.S. D1 full scholarship American Import – “Jenny is extremely organized and does everything she can for the team, and that is exactly what a HC needs to do. When I found out from her – after she spoke to all of the players - that she was taking over as the HC, it was very natural. I knew she wanted the best for the team and I was excited to have a coach that really cared and wanted to win." “Jenny makes us work hard and takes no bull***t. She pushes us as a coach should.”
Coach Widding shared with me that the 1814’s earned their recent national championship title because every single person bought in to the mentality of doing whatever was best for the TEAM. Short-handed on coaches at the beginning of the season, Jenny stepped up as the HC in the opening game and the rest is HERstory. The opportunity to go to the next level isn’t always wrapped in a pretty package, but she chose to leap – without doubting herself or over-thinking it – and the “net appeared.” Jenny has had the respect of her players and from Day #1 and successfully drove home the message that playing every snap - no matter the score – as well as playing for the person next to you rather than yourself, could lead them to a winning season. Her players listened, bought in, and delivered on that message in epic fashion.
Jenny admitted to me that she is actually quite shy and doesn’t like any attention focused on her. Having said that, we agreed on the importance of sharing her story for the sake of the next generation of girls who can aspire to follow in her groundbreaking footsteps.
We say, “Here-Here” to another, beautiful round of “If you see her, you can BE her.”
Thank you for sharing your journey with us, Coach Widding. Congratulations to you, your coaching staff and your players on your 2022 Norwegian Championship Title. We wish you continued successful growth and a great 2023 season ahead!!
-- Dana Sparling
WGF Executive Director