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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Basketball star dreams of a football national championship
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2013-07-26

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She was a youngster growing up in Chicago's northwest suburbs, probably not even in middle school at the time she wrote a story for school called, "Ashley, the girl football star." It told of a girl who tried out for the Chicago Bears and that girl took over as quarterback of the Bears, replacing popular QB Jim McMahon, and leading Chicago to victory in the Super Bowl.

The story came from the mind of Ashley Berggren, who went on to an illustrious sporting career—in basketball. She was a record-setting player at Barrington High School and many of her records are still stand in the record books. She then went on to an amazing career at the University of Illinois, where she was named the first All-American and 1997 Big Ten Player of the Year, leading her team to the first-ever Big Ten Conference title. Berggren is still the second all-time leading scorer (2,061 points) at Illinois and was a three-time All-Big Ten honoree (1996, 1997, and 1998).

Berggren remains a much-talked-about local high school hoops hero, even as she prepares for her 20-year high school reunion in 2014.

Berggren graduated from Illinois is 1998, and was an inductee earlier this year into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. "It is an honor to be associated with such a fine group of women," she said.

Berggren, 36, who now lives in west suburban Naperville, hasn't forgotten her football tale, that football dream. Several years ago, she signed to play for the Chicago Force, putting her basketball high top shoes on the side for a run with black cleated football shoes. She has blossomed into one of the Force's top offensive threats.

"I am so thankful to still be able to compete at such a high level with committed teammates and coaches," Berggren said. "Football brings out the most competitive individuals who strive for excellence in everything they do. My closest friendships have all come from my participation in sports, and my fondest memories are of the times spent both on the field and off with these individuals."

Berggren has been dating Pria for five years. Pria cheers Berggren's every move in her Force uniform, along with Berggren's parents, Howard and Penny, who also attend every game. "My family and friends were extremely supportive when they realized I found someone who brought out the best in me," Berggren said of Pria.

Berggren and her 11-0 Force teammates put it all on the line Saturday, Aug. 3, when Chicago battles the Dallas Diamonds in the Women's Football Alliance (WFA) National Championship game in San Diego.

Berggren is as excited for this title game as nailing a half-court, game-winning basket.

"We have the combination of experienced veterans, exceptional talent, and quality coaching to win a national championship. Considering this is our second year in a row making it to the championship game, we have more confidence, poise and a greater understanding of what is needed to be successful," Berggren said. "Winning a national championship will be the pinnacle of my sports career. It is one thing to achieve something based on your talent alone, but it so much more gratifying when you have worked extremely hard, experienced adversity and disappointment on your journey toward achieving your goal.

"Football is a unique sport in that it truly embodies teamwork. You are held accountable at an entirely different level due to the nature of the sport. In basketball, one player has the ability to impact the game, but in football, it requires a concerted team effort in multiple facets to achieve success."

Berggren, a longtime Chicago Bears fan, tagged JJ Watt of the Houston Texans as her favorite current player. But her football memories drift back to the days of Walter Payton, her favorite former player, as well as Mike Singletary and Gary Fencik, among others.

Her personal football highlight came this past July 4, wearing her red, white and blue jersey for Team USA in a game against Germany. That U.S. team, with Berggren and many Force teammates and coaches, captured the world championship.

"I have had to overcome a lot of fears associated with playing football along with learning various skill sets associated with different positions," said Berggren, who admits she got hooked on football through the "mental and physical challenge of learning a new sport."

"I used to play football with friends growing up, but I rarely watched the game nor did I know anything about the sport before I began playing three years ago. I also love playing alongside such admirable and committed women who play the game for the pure love of the sport."

Berggren coached the Schaumburg High School girls' basketball team for four years, and also was a special education teacher at the school. She is not returning to the suburban high school in the fall and, instead, looking to expand her youth sports company (Dream Out Loud Sports, LLC) and provide quality basketball instruction to young girls ( www.berggrenhoopcamp.org ) in the Chicago area. Plus, she is starting an after-school program that provides outdoor, environmental, and experiential learning adventures for youth ages 8-13 ( www.youthonbelay.org )

"I have run youth basketball camps for the past 15 years. I am committed to exposing young girls and boys to the fundamentals of the game in a fun and inviting atmosphere," she said. "We are bringing fun back to a sports culture which has become too focused on specialization."

Chicago Force owner/GM Linda Bache tagged Berggren as "perhaps the best athlete on the team."

"She has exceptional hands, good strength and surprising speed," Bache said. "She is an accomplished athlete, having achieved great success in her basketball career. I remember watching her at her first Force practice and realizing that she was going to be a special player for us. We can use her abilities in a variety of ways on both sides of the ball. 'Berggie' is an asset on the field, off the field and in the locker room. I'm so happy she decided to pursue her childhood dream of playing football by joining the Force."

Berggren added: "In all honesty, I may be one of the more difficult athlete's to coach because of my high level of expectation for myself, my athletic background, and my experience as a teacher. I have become a far better coach since playing football, because I understand what athletes are experiencing as they're learning new concepts, and I have learned to be a better communicator. I have to commend our [Force] coaching staff for their commitment to advancing the women's game, and I'm thankful and appreciative of their dedication to making us all better football players."


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