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New York Sharks swimming back to crown

The New York Sharks killed their competition during the 2003 season. The defending gridiron champions of the Independent Women’s League outscored their competition, 415-6, including a 98-0 thrashing of the Albany Night-Mares on May 10.

The all-women’s football team now prepares to repeat in front of a home crowd, as they play the Sacramento Sirens in the championship game on July 12 at 7 p.m. at DaSilva Memorial Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University.

After finishing the season atop the Mid-Atlantic division at 7-0, the Sharks beat the Bay State Warriors this past weekend, 20-6, at August Martin High School to win the Eastern Conference. The Sirens earned their bid by beating the Chicago Force, 47-7, to win the Western Conference.

Sharks running back Missy Marmorale scored twice against the Warriors and she also led the Sharks in rushing during the regular season with 57 carries for 511 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Sharks’ deadliest weapon during the season was the arm of quarterback Val Halesworth. The Oyster Bay, L.I. resident threw for 1,452 yards, 21 touchdowns with only four interceptions and compiled a quarterback rating of 134.7 for the season.

Halesworth is one of a corps of Sharks who have been playing together for about four years. Originally called the Long Island Sharks, the team played flag football and traveled across the country and overseas to participate in tournaments. They transformed into a tackle team in 1999 when the Minnesota Vixens, one of two teams in the Women’s Pro Football league, challenged the Sharks.

Coached at the time by former New York Jet Bobby Jackson, the Sharks shocked the Vixens, winning 12-6. The Sharks then joined the league, going 4-2 during the 2000 season and 6-1 in the 2001 season. They then joined the IWFL for the 2002 season, where they captured the title by defeating the Austin Outlaws in the championship game in Oregon.

The Sharks come into this year’s title game as overwhelming favorites. The Sirens also posted a perfect season by going 8-0.

“It’s just like any league,” said Andra Douglas, owner of the Sharks as well as the backup quarterback. “There are a few dominant teams, but any team can win on any given day.”

Douglas’ modesty is shadowed by the staggering results from this season.

Halesworth said she understands what the Sharks have accomplished and confidently expects another title.

“We’re going to win,” Halesworth said. “There’s no question, I know we’re going to win.”

Halesworth has played football her whole life. Unfortunately, she does not get paid to do the one thing she loves. The IWFL is a non-profit organization. Unlike women’s basketball’s, women’s football is a recent addition to the national sports scene. While Sheryl Swoopes and Chamique Holdsclaw make millions shooting hoops in the WNBA, Halesworth makes a living by coaching field hockey at Oyster Bay High School.

“The league is a grassroots organization,” Douglas said. “It has to evolve before the NFL looks at it.”

The Sharks attract their fair share of players. They drew around 100 players for last season’s tryouts.

“We get women from all fields of work,” Douglas said. “Teachers, lawyers, doctors, any job you could imagine. We sometimes have to cut players because we have so many, but generally we try to keep them all.”

A class of new rookies, including Queens native Michele Floria, made a lasting impression on the nucleus of players who have made the Sharks what they are today.

“We have rookies who have never played football before,” Douglas said. “And they did better than the rookies we had the year before.”

The Sharks practice seven hours a day for three days a week before the season and twice a week during the season — a large commitment for a volunteer position.

“We love the game so much,” Halesworth said. “It would be a dream come true to get paid for playing football. The pro athletes who get paid the big, big bucks are so lucky.”

The league continues to look for sponsors and the Sharks also promote their passion by setting up football clinics and camps for young girls in the tri-state area. Douglas also established the Fins Up Foundation to familiarize girls with the sport.

Right now the Sharks cannot afford to look past the immediate future. Extending their winning streak remains the top priority.

“The only thing that could top winning the title last year would be repeating it in front of a home crowd,” Douglas said. “Our players and fans deserve that.”

For more information and to purchase tickets for the game, go to the team’s Web site at nysharksfootball.com.

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