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Weis blazes trail in women’s pro football

Posted on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 11:59 am

By ROB WITHAM

H-P Sports Correspondent

Her family football roots reach back nearly seventy years at Ohio State University, one of the most storied college football programs in the nation.

Now, Penny Weis is planting new roots at an age where everyone else is content cheering from the stands. At somewhere north of age forty, Weis is spending her first season with the Hampton Roads Lady Gators, members of the Women’s Football Alliance, a semi-professional league comprised of teams up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

This is real football. No flags, no two-hand touch here. The games are just as physical, just as taxing as any other tackle football you’ll see.

Weis had to watch from the sidelines Saturday at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center due to an injury as the Gators fell to the RVA Black Widows 14-6, but hopes to be back in action later in the regular season, which stretches into June. But enjoy one conversation with Weis, and you quickly realize she is thinking several steps ahead of everyone else.

Her Uncle, James Powell, helped create the physical therapy program at Ohio State. Weis’ childhood saw her loving football, but being pigeonholed into a different position.

“I always loved football, but I cheered, because Dad wouldn’t let me play,” Weis recalled. “At Pee Wee, the coach actually asked Dad if I could play, because I liked playing football more than I liked to cheer. He said, no, you’re cheering.”

By college, Weis was able to finally play in intramural football, and follows the Buckeyes to this day. As the years unfolded, she married her husband Howard, raised two sons, watching one play baseball at Virginia Military Institute. Her nephew, Jacob, won a state baseball championship at Hanover in 2016.

In the past year, a job change led to opportunities. One was to become assistant gymnastics coach at Patrick Henry. Another was thanks to the Women’s Football Alliance. Weis tried out for the Black Widows first, but was not offered a roster spot. Later, the phone rang. It was the Lady Gators inquiring of her services. Despite the travel, she jumped at the chance.

“Penny brings a lot to the team, a lot of energy,”, noted Katisha Simpkins, the owner of the Lady Gators, who also just happens to be their starting center and has been involved in football herself since age six. “She’s such a great person, and she knows how to catch the football!”

Beyond the action between the sidelines, a recent hire by the National Football League inspires Weis to think about much more than playing the sport. When Samantha “Sam” Rappaport was named NFL Director of Football Development last September, it motivated Weis, and her business acumen, to think in a new direction.

“Why I really love football now is about Sam, and I love her so much, I went to Orlando for the Pro Bowl and watched the U.S. vs World games,” Weis said, referencing the women’s pro football events which took place during Pro Bowl Week. “There are 300 players from around the world who play, take classes, and learn about NFL operations. We have 64 women’s teams in the United States.”

The Orlando experience was actually before she heard from Hampton Roads. Doors were opening, and now, in typical football fashion, Weis is knocking them down, one at a time.

“See how things work? Someone’s looking after me,” Weis noted. “I’ve done a lot of different things from sales and marketing to coaching. It’s weird to be an athlete again, but it’s such a kick to see what this old body can do and where I can go.”

Weis hopes that, as the Women’s Football Alliance grows, so can she, eventually hanging up the helmet and exchanging it for a coach’s headset, or maybe the owner’s office. She already has a great example in Simpkins with multi-tasking. Whatever the future holds for her, and her faithful husband, who dutifully kept game statistics on the sideline for the Gators Saturday, you can bet that past barriers and present stereotypes won’t stand a chance when Penny Weis runs the next patterns in her life.