Venom wide receiver catches spirit of new NWFL season

By Greg Miller

   National Women's Football League (NWFL) Tennessee Venom wide receiver Kristen Bowers has caught the spirit of excitement for the new season.
   Last season, the NWFL's inaugural season, Bowers, 5-2, 115 pounds, played free safety and cornerback.
   "I found my home at wide receiver," Bowers said. "I don't think I was playing the right positions last year. I had a lot of learning to do. I thought I knew a lot about football growing up. What I learned last year was that I didn't know as much as I thought I knew about football."
   Bowers has been interested in playing football since the fourth grade.
   "Since the opportunity wasn't there, I didn't think about it until our tryouts," she remarked.
   Ironically, Bowers chose the numbers of two Chicago Cubs' players, Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace, for her Venom uniform numbers. Last year, her number was 23, Sandberg's number.
   "I want to honor Mark Grace this year by wearing his number (17)," she said. "They were modest players who didn't dig for money."
   To those who believe women shouldn't be playing football, Bowers has a message: "Women are not trying to impose on the men's league. Women wanted to play football, so we started our own league."
   A desire to increase their knowledge of the game of football characterizes the typical NWFL players, according to Bowers.
   "I think they're more eager to learn," she said. "They do not want to do it wrong. They want to learn the right way to do everything."
   The majority of the coaches in the NWFL last season were men.
   "I do think that will change, because the players are wanting to coach," stated Bowers. "My goal is to be a coach."
   In 2001, the NWFL was comprised of 10 teams. Eleven new teams have been added to the league during the off season.
   The league's explosive growth, Bowers said: "is showing super promise. Overall, it has surprised me how well it's taken off. If it keeps on going the way it has been, opportunities will have to be offered to women to play at college and high school levels."
   The Venom are entering the new season with the outlook "that we're going all the way to the championship game."
   Last year, the Northern Division winners (Philadelphia Liberty Belles) and the Southern Division winners (Pensecola Power) played in the big game. This year, 21 teams will be divided into five divisions.
   An Elizabethton High School graduate, Bowers played softball and ran track and cross country for the school. She also attended Tusculum College. She taught pre-school for three years and has worked as a substitute teacher in the Johnson City School system.
   Bowers is the mother of three children, Hannah and Megan, seven-year-old twins; and Alyssa, 3 1/2.
   Jeff Gethers is the head coach of the Venom, which play their first home game at Happy Valley High School, May 4 at 7 p.m. Susan Greenway is the team's offensive coach.
   Gethers and Greenway are also the team's co-owners. Bowers' father, Don Bowers, is the Venom's defensive coordinator. Lee Milam is the team's defensive coach.
   Bowers is "excited big time" about the Venom's move to Happy Valley High School for the team's home games.
   "I feel Carter County has the best fans for community or team support," she said.
   Last year, the team played its home games at Volunteer High School in Church Hill.
   The Venom will hold an open tryout at the Boys and Girls Club of Johnson City/Washington County on Feb. 2, 3. For more information, call Greenway at 423-467-3355.