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The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, August 4, 2005

By Bethany Bradsher

New breed of armchair QB's in the wings


Guys who consider East Carolina football their own macho domain might find themselves in a strange new world this season. Thanks to the football coaching staff, some 50 women will watch the Pirates with a new level of understanding come September.

In what they hope will become an annual event, head coach Skip Holtz and his assistants hosted their first Ladies Football Clinic Saturday morning at the Murphy Center. The objective? To turn casual Saturday observers into true female fans.

For Nancy Ferguson, the actual game has been secondary to tailgating, and she rarely stayed in her seat for all four quarters. But her husband Grier, a faithful ECU fan, suggested that she travel to Greenville from their home in Suffolk, VA, for the clinic. The experience will change the way she looks at future football outings, she said.

“Usually I would go into the game for a few minutes and just say, ho-hum, and then go back out to where we were tailgating,” said Ferguson, who was a cheerleader for ECU in the ‘70s. “Now, I can actually watch the game and recognize a couple of plays.”

The idea of devoting a day to women came to Greenville from South Carolina, where coaches like Holtz and Phil Petty helped lead a similar event that went from 100 to 1,800 participants in just a few years, said Petty, now the ECU quarterbacks coach.

“Needless to say, it got pretty popular, so much so that the husbands got jealous,” Petty said.

The exclusivity of the women’s clinic is exactly what made the ECU version so appealing, Ferguson said. As each position coach gave a short talk about his area of specialty the women could ask the types of questions they would never bring up in the presence of husbands or boyfriends.

“Not a single one of them talked down to us,” she said. “They really tried to teach us about the game. No question was too stupid.”

Instead of just lecturing about the fine points of gridiron management, the coaches turned some of their lessons into hands-on demonstrations. Kathy Harley, whose son Scott played for the Pirates in the ‘90s, got a much better grasp of football strategy through the clinic’s unique teaching methods, she said.

“They actually put chairs up front for an offense, and they had randomly selected women from the audience to sit in those chairs,” Harley said. “Then they explained different formations, and they had the women in the chairs walk through the plays.”

Beth Everett already has a working knowledge of football, both as a fan and as an employee in the Pirates Club office. But Saturday’s activities increased her familiarity both of the sport and of the new coaches. She is already thinking of friends that she will invite next year, she said.

“I’m comfortable with the sport of football, but there were a lot of women there who obviously knew nothing,” Everett said. “And they were comfortable letting their lack of knowledge show.”

Barbara Flake, who interacts with coaches and athletes in the athletic business office, opted to attend the clinic so that she could gain a better understanding of ECU football as an employee and a fan. She said that her eyes were opened to the intricacy of the sport.

“It gave all of us, I think, a new respect for the players,” Flake said. “That was an awakening for everybody as to how involved and complicated it can be.”

When they weren’t learning the difference between clipping and holding, the women soaked up a few experiences that are sure to incite envy from the men in the Pirate Nation. They ran through the purple haze to the strains of Jimi Hendrix (“The smoke was cold,” Everett said), and those that wanted to could try on a Pirate uniform — complete with pads.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Petty, who was the chief organizer of the inaugural ECU event. “The main thing is, it’s their day.”

The experience was so compelling for Harley that it carried out of the Murphy Center and into her errand-running that afternoon, she said. She stopped for some groceries at Lowe’s Foods and saw some of her new fellow football experts pushing their own carts nearby.

“We were calling down the aisle, quizzing each other,” she said.

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02/23/2007 01:11:34 AM

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