COLUMBUS — The undefeated Columbus Comets, fresh off a 67-8 stomping of the Baltimore Burn in their Women’s Football Alliance first-round playoff match last week, are loaded with talent, speed and a trio of Fredericktown Freddies.
Running back Shelly Gates, who plays linebacker on defense, is in her seventh year with the team. Wide receiver Whitney Barnes, who has spent the year coming back from an ACL tear, has been with the Comets nearly as long as Gates. Shannon McGregor, in her second season with the Comets, plays on special teams as well as defensive end.
Gates and McGregor were both involved in football at Fredericktown High School — albeit from different sides of the line.
Gates played defensive back for the Freddies, while McGregor was a cheerleader.
“I used to play football with all the guys when we were growing up as kids,” said Gates. “It was always kind of an interest. They kind of asked me to play (at Fredericktown). I talked to the coach and the coach was fine with it.”
McGregor is only in her second season and is relatively new on a veteran squad.
“The veterans are really good about getting the newer ones involved in what is going on — especially off the field,” said McGregor, who also played softball at Fredericktown. “We do a lot of good bonding and you get to know everybody. I love every aspect of it. I still get apprehensive at times but, as I play more and more and establish myself, the coach will gain more confidence in me. Hopefully, I can build myself up.”
Barnes always loved football and grew up watching it with her dad.
“My dad was the one that actually heard that they were forming a team in Columbus,” said Barnes, who is a seven-year veteran. “He and my mom drove me to the tryout. I’ve pretty much been playing ever since.”
Barnes feels that participating in all kinds of sports at Fredericktown helped lay a good foundation for her.
“Yes, definitely,” said Barnes, who played softball, track, cross country and a little bit of soccer in high school. “Softball helps with the catching of long passes. Track and cross country helps me endurance-wise.”
Helping this league to grow and mature is a full-time commitment — especially for players, who are working full time and have families.
“It’s still not as popular as we were hoping it would be,” said Gates. “It’s slowly, gradually getting there. It’s more word of mouth because getting sponsorships for women’s football is very tough, especially because we have to do it on our own time and everyone works and has families. We practice three times per week and we have games on Saturdays. It doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to go out and get sponsors.”
Last week’s first-round win against Baltimore was a big relief for the Comets, who were undefeated in last year’s regular season but were one-and-done in last year’s playoffs.