The Chicago Force was heading to Atlanta for a game back in 2005, and teammates Amanda Malsch and Tricia Charbonneau were on their first road trip. They were seated next to each other for the near-90-minute flight, which truly changed their lives.
"Although I knew her as a teammate, I hadn't had a chance to get to know her well," Malsch said. "During the flight we had great conversation and she quickly became a good friend. I was impressed by her intelligence and drive."
Charbonneau added, "The universe decided to give us adjacent seats on the plane ride to Atlanta. That was the first time we ever spoke. We were fast friends before anything else."
They dated soon after and on April 2, 2011, the two had a ceremony to celebrate their relationship. Then, literally a year later, on April 2, they had a civil-union ceremony.
On April 14, they were on the football field in Kansas City with their Force teammates, opening the 2012 seasontheir eighth in pads. And, on April 21, the two were back in gear at Evanston High School, when the Force opened the 2012 home schedule against the Columbus Comets.
"I consider us both very driven individuals," Malsch said. "We debrief about work on a regular basis and offer each other advice, constructive criticism and support daily. Her drive has challenged me to be a better educator, friend, teammate and person."
Malsch, 37, is an assistant principal at a Chicago Public School. Charbonneau, 35, is an associate principal at Morgante Wilson Architects. They have been dating since August 2005, and live in Edgewater. They also are Force co-owners with Linda Bache, "which essentially means we wear lot of hats," Malsch said. "We share responsibility on everything from travel to player personnel to recruiting to social media to sponsorship to advertising to written and visual content for print and website marketing and much, much more. However, we couldn't do it without the help of our talented management group."
Malsch plays on the Force defensive line. Charbonneau is the team's kicker and punter.
"I don't consider any one moment [to be] a '[career] highlight,'" Malsch said. "To me, just being part of this amazing group has been the highlight of my life. I can't think of what my life would be like without the Chicago Force."
Charbonneau tagged the 2012 season-opening road win over Kansas City as her career highlight, surpassing the team's championship game appearance in 2008.
"Our team played so well [against Kansas City]; there were so many contributorsoffense, defense, special teamsagainst our biggest and most hated rival," Charbonneau said. "We dominated the Tribe, wore them down, didn't let up and ran them into the ground. The [final] score, 21-14, doesn't illustrate what a strong performance it was. The aura on the sideline, the positive attitude of the players, and the precise execution on the field was different than any other game I can remember. I don't want to jinx it, but I have a great feeling about our team this year."
Last season, the two intentionally came face to face against each other on the practice fieldwell, sort of.
"We both participated in a drill where we had to tackle each other," Malsch said. "I knew we would be tested in this way; I honestly think our defensive coach wanted to see how we would handle the conflict. After the whistle [to start the play], we ran toward each other and at the moment before contact, stopped and gave each other a hug. Needless to say, it was not the reaction our coach was looking for. I'm pretty sure we couldn't co-exist as teammates if we had to compete in that way.
"But now that she is the kicker, I get to see her on the field and cheer her for her from the sidelines. Conversely, when our defense breaks from the huddle, I can hear her voice yelling for me; it's very inspiring. I never want to let her down."
Both said being teammates with their significant other is not, and has never, been an issue. "I wouldn't have it any other way," Malsch said. "The best part is that we get to spend so much time together. We work very hard and it would be difficult to do if we weren't able to do it side-by-side. There is no 'worst part.'"
There are just plenty of shared memories, such as when Malsch's nieces and nephews come to games. "My sister made T-shirts for all the kids and, on the front, [the shirt] says '#92: Aunt Mandy' and on the back '#88: Aunt Tricia.' Family is very important to me, so it was so touching when they came out en masse to cheer both of us on," Malsch said.
Charbonneau said, "The Force consumes a considerable part of our livespractice, marketing, management, etc.so the fact that we can lean on each other or bounce ideas around is really great; we can help each other meet deadlines, deal with correspondence. Certainly, things are a little different on the field. I love to cheer Amanda on, and I can always hear her voice loud and clear on the turf. She is my biggest fan as well, which always makes me feel good. One of the reasons I continue to be involved with the Chicago Force is nostalgia; it's where I met my wife. I don't ever want to forget that."