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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Chicago Force 2017 season may be the team's 15th and final
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2017-02-03

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It's late in the fourth quarter, so to speak, for the Chicago Force—one of the most successful, storied teams in women's tackle football history and certainly one deeply rooted in the local LGBT community.

The 2017 season, an eight-game regular-season that starts in April, will be the last for the Force. Or certainly the last under current owner Linda Bache.

A new ownership is a possibility, though.

"I actually had intended for 2016 to be my final season running the team, but then I had a conversation with our legendary, semi-retired quarterback Sami Grisafe," Bache said. "When Sami decided that she wanted a final season with the Force in 2017, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of that and that I needed to continue the team for another year.

"She's a special player, a charismatic leader and the greatest quarterback in the history of women's football. She's also one of my favorite people to be around.

"It also felt better to state my intention to retire in advance of the season so that anyone who harbored the desire to play another year would have that chance and know that the window of opportunity may be closing."

Bache, who lives in Rogers Park and has been the team owner since 2005, said the decision to step away from the organization wasn't easy to make, but it has been a few years in the making, she said. "I began to get burned out and other aspects of my life are requiring more of my time and attention."

Bache is the senior account manager for Ferrellgas, and played six seasons ( 2003-2008 ) for the Force. The career highlight of her playing career was getting to the national championship game in 2008. "We had a great core group of players [in 2008], including four of us who had been members of the team since its inaugural season," Bache said of herself, Pam Schaffrath, Tee Simon, and Trish Nelson. "Although [the 2008 national championship game] ended in heartbreak when we lost in sudden-death overtime, it was a phenomenal season. It is rare for an athlete to get the opportunity to finish their career in a championship game."

Bache told the team last July that it was unlikely that there would be a 2017 season for the Force. "Both myself and head coach John Konecki did not feel that we could continue," she said. Then in September Grisafe contacted Bache, saying that she wanted to return for a final season, and she asked if Bache and Konecki would consider continuing in their respective roles.

"This [was] the only scenario in which I could imagine returning and the same was true for John," Bache said.

Sure enough, a few days after Grisafe's request, both Bache and Konecki agreed.

So 2017 carries a simple slogan for the Force: LOBO, an acronym for Last One, Best One.

In order for the Force to continue in 2018, "a new owner or owners would need to come forward," Bache said. "It's also possible that a collective of players, former and/or current, could be that new ownership."

Bache said that, if 2017 is the end for the Force, it is sad.

"When you've put so much time and effort into something, it's hard to let it go. And it's always hard to walk away from something you love," she said. "I'm extremely proud of this organization and what we've accomplished. I had six seasons as a player and it was a life-changing experience for me. Then I became an owner in my third season and I had no idea what I was doing. There was no one to show me the ropes, so it was on-the-job training and I had to muddle through. I made mistakes, but also learned a lot. I had a lot of help along the way from many people, in particular from John Konecki, Dave Gassman, Kim Duffey, Michele Maeder, George Howe, Amanda Malsch, Tricia Charbonneau, Sam Powell and Jen Thompson. And most importantly, my wife Yvette Holt has been by my side for 13 years helping me with everything you can possibly imagine on a daily basis."

Money is, no doubt, a major factor for Bache's decision. Or lack thereof, in terms of money.

"It seems that, unless the women are willing to play in their underwear, there isn't sponsorship money offered or broadcasting opportunities available," she said. "I think recent events and the political climate confirm the level of misogyny that still exists and the struggle that female athletes and women in general face. It's much better than when I was coming up, but there's still a tremendous disparity in the way in which female athletes are treated as compared to men. It's frustrating that we've had a perennial playoff team that consistently competes for a championship in a city that loves sports, and yet we've struggled so much to find an audience.

"Part of it is the limited game schedule for football. An eight-game regular-season schedule allows for just four guaranteed home games, plus the possibility of hosting playoff games. And, part of it is that there is so much competition for fans—[Chicago] has a lot to offer and we're trying to find an audience during a time of year ( April through July ) when so many other options exist."

Bache said the highlight of her career as the Force owner was winning the National Championship in 2013.

"The entire 2013 season was exhilarating," she said. "That championship was so elusive; we had been to the finals in 2008 and 2012 and lost in heartbreaking fashion both times. So winning it all in 2013 not only felt like redemption for those losses, but it was the culmination of a decade of blood, sweat and tears from so many people. All of the players, coaches, staff, sponsors and fans ( former and current ) had a hand in getting the team to that point, so everyone shares of piece of that."

Admittedly, Bache said that she'd "love to" close out her Force career with another national championship in 2017. That would be the perfect storybook ending.

"The roster is still taking shape as we continue to add players, so it's not completely clear who we are yet," Bache said of the 2017 Force. "But, I expect to again win our division, compete for the conference championship and hopefully get to the national championship. There's no better coach in the game than our head coach, John Konecki, so I feel pretty good about our chances.

"I'll stop short of guaranteeing we win it all—something I did do at the outset of our 2013 season. But check back with me in April and see if I have a bold prediction about winning another ring.

"All of our efforts, preparation and planning will be to attain that specific goal. But regardless of how far we get, I want [2017] to be a season that I remember for total commitment from all our players and coaches. I want to remember that we played harder than anyone else, that we wanted it more than any opponent, that we expended every bit of ourselves in a relentless pursuit of excellence."

If new owners are found for 2018, Bache said it is her intention to be completely out of the picture. "I think it's good to get new energy and fresh perspectives," she said. "New ownership would generate involvement from new people and hopefully result in a resurgence in interest. The idea of showing up to a future Force game as a fan and sitting up in the stands is both appealing and unsettling ... I've only ever been on the field or sidelines."

The 2017 season will be the 15th for the Force, and the team has never had a losing season, has been in the playoffs every year except 2007 and has compiled an 81 percent win-percentage. Chicago has won its division nine times and its conference three times.

"The Force has worked with many members of the LGBT community throughout its existence and has enjoyed a great deal of support from the community as well," Bache said. "The Force has always had a significant percentage of players who identify as LGBT, while the rest of the roster become our straight allies. One of the things I love most about our organization is its diversity—people from all walks of life, different colors, ethnicities, beliefs, etc."

Anyone looking to join the 2017 Force is asked to go to the team's website ( ChicagoForceFootball.com ) or email Bache at: gm@chicagoforcefootball.com .


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