The Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) gives women throughout the United States the opportunity to play competitive football. The Pittsburgh Passion has united women who love the game to form one of the most renowned teams in the country and has created a sisterhood between them. Between a couple of the team’s key players that bond, is made stronger by one factor: Slippery Rock University.
In the 2015 season the Passion was led by Rock alumni quarterback Lisa Horton, running back Tara Catone, and current wide receiver Angela Baker to the Indepentend Women’s Football League National Championship.
Horton, who earned her master’s degree in exercise science and was a graduate assistant for the university’s softball team from 2001 to 2003, was a Division I softball player before she found her new passion in football.
“I always wanted to play football growing up, but never could,” Horton said. “I found the Passion and have now been playing for 13 years. I’m one of the originals.”
A veteran of the game, Horton has put up some incredible numbers during her tenure. She has over 11,000 yards, 150 career touchdowns and has led the Passion to back-to-back national championships, one of which she was named MVP.
She has made an incredible impact on the team for years but said she is looking towards moving from running the plays to calling them as a coach. Horton said it’s not the easiest decision to stop playing because of the bond she created with the women on her team.
“We don’t get paid the big bucks, but we love the game and a share a passion for it,” Horton said. “It’s a sisterhood. I play for the girls and a lot of my friends. I wouldn’t come back if it wasn’t for them.”
Two of the women she mentioned were Baker and Catone.
Horton interacts with them on the field almost more than any other players on the team. Baker, a primary target in the Passion receiving core, and Catone, the starting running back, share the SRU bond with Horton, but never crossed paths at the university. That is not the case for Baker and Catone.
The two women have a friendship that started before they were teammates. Baker, a current student, and Catone, a 2014 graduate and a former heptathlete for the Rock’s women’s track and field team, both studied health and physical education and knew each other from classes, but have very different stories of how they got to where they are today.
Baker said she was inspired by Steelers players such as Jerome Bettis and Charlie Batch who she met growing up, so when she got the opportunity to try out five seasons ago, she had to take it.
“I was always one of the girls who was running around with the boys,” Baker said. “We played basketball, baseball and all the other sports, but I loved football the most.”
Catone, an academic All-American, finished her four years of track in 2014, but was not ready to be done playing sports. In her rookie season, she started at running back during the Passion’s national championship run.
She does not take all of the credit for the early success in her career. Catone said when she heard about the tryouts it was her relationship with Baker that really helped her to achieve all the success that she has with the team.
“Knowing Angela really helped a lot,” Catone said. “She’s like my sister. It’s just an awesome feeling to play with and be around people you have already connected with.”
Though these women may have come to the Passion for different reasons, they all display their passion for the team with love and respect for the game.
Catone said her starting role with the team is humbled by aspects of being in a Passion uniform and playing next to veterans like Baker and Horton.
“It’s amazing to step on a field for a team with so much pride and history,” Catone said.
Catone also said it is a big difference between watching and playing the game, but she does it.
It is a challenge for people to view women’s football the way they do men’s, but she said the women on the fields are just as capable to compete against one another as two men’s teams are. Baker and Horton agree.
Baker said that people assume that it’s unattractive at first, but once they come out, they really get into it.
“It’s women against women and we are hitting each other as hard as we can,” Baker said. “ We are making the big catches and big plays just like any other football game.”
While the younger players are still avidly pushing for the change, Horton recognizes it has been happening.
“Over the last 10 years the game has evolved a lot,” Horton said. “I have seen people view women differently within the sport, not only on the field, but with my opportunities in coaching as well.
She credits USA football and NFL organizations such as the New Orleans Saints for where her coaching career is going. That does not mean her work on the field has stopped.
Baker, Catone, Horton and the rest of the Passion team opened their season with a win on April 2, continuing a 23 game win streak. As arguably one of the most popular teams in the country every game should bring out a great atmosphere, but all three of the women think that there will be nothing like the one at Slippery Rock on April 23.
Catone ran track at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium, but has never played on the field. She called their return to The Rock a homecoming for her and Horton. Baker, a fan of the football team, has attended games at the stadium, but never played.
“Me and some of the alumni are really excited to play at SRU,” Baker said. “Who would have thought we’d be playing here after watching the men play all of these years?”