Women leading on the football field

Blitz flag football team co-captains Dia Lee on the left and Ma Lee Vang, take a break from flag football practice at Evergreen Park in Brooklyn Center, Minn. on June 23, 2013. MPR photo/Dan Olson

My not very illustrious high school athletic career included a stint as a member of a nine-player football team. It’s a lot of work covering the field with only nine players and I still have high regard for those who make the effort. So, I was delighted recently to meet Dia Lee and Ma Lee Vang, members of a Twin Cities’ Hmong American women’s nine-player flag football team called the Blitz.

You can hear more about Hmong American women playing flag football today in a new episode of Minnesota Sounds and Voices as part of All Things Considered.

Nine player football is two positions short of the standard 11 players. The action seems faster, crisper and plays take less time to develop because, well, there are fewer bodies to move around the field.

Dia, Ma Lee and dozens of other young Twin Cities Hmong American women will compete Saturday and Sunday, July 6th and 7th as part of the Hmong Freedom Celebration in St. Paul.

Their team’s participation in the upcoming competition required more than just practice and physical skill. Dia was one of a number of women who started a petition drive seven years ago to allow women’s flag football teams to compete.

Many Hmong, like folks in other patriarchal cultures, place a high value on women learning to be good wives and mothers rather than spending time playing football.

The women footballers see it differently.

During my time with them I found that most are college students also holding down jobs and the older players out of school, work in banking, retailing and law. Not exactly underachievers or shrinking violets, they view football as a character building activity.

Organizers for the Hmong Freedom Celebration expect more than 10 women’s teams to compete in the 33rd annual event and say it will draw as many as 40,000 people from around the world.