By Luke Strickland
JONESBORO — Three members of the Atlanta Phoenix women’s football team — Jenitra Shields, Kandice Mitchell and London Kristin — recently traveled to Canada to help Team USA win the 2017 International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship.
The IFAF started the inaugural tackle competition for women in 2009 in Sweden, where the USA won gold. In 2013, the USA repeated as champions in Finland and made it three straight earlier this month with a 41-16 win over Canada.
The road to the the 2017 Women’s World Championships began for Team USA last January when tackle football players from around the country met at the Wide World of Sports in Orlando to try out for the team. Shields, Mitchell and Kristin were three of 45 players selected to represent their country at the Women’s World Championship.
Shields is a former Division I volleyball player from Clayton County. She attended Morrow High School and led Jonesboro High School to a 15th straight Clayton County volleyball title in 2015 as a coach. She is a 4-time All-American in the WFA as an offensive and defensive lineman.
Mitchell is a two-time gold medalist and a former Division I track and field athlete. She formerly coached football at Henry County High School and is currently the Assistant Athletic Director for Atlanta Public Schools.
Kristin is a three-time All-American originally from Richmond, Va.
All three women play in the Women’s Football Alliance for the Atlanta Phoenix, who play their home games in Marietta. Last season, the Phoenix went 6-3 in the regular season before losing their first postseason game.
Shields said she believes her background of playing multiple sports has helped her transition quickly onto the gridiron.
“I feel that being a year-round competitor in multiple athletic arenas gave me advantages from the consistent cross training,” she said. “Also by playing an anaerobic sport like volleyball, my stamina and explosiveness immediately translated over because I was already in training shape physically. Football is a very reactive type of sport, and I find a lot of similarities in the hand eye coordination that I have been able to pull from volleyball where I played middle blocker.
“Pole vaulting made my core very strong and gave me violent hands that also helps me make good tackles and finishing plays,” she continued. “The competitive edge and aggression that come from being a life long athlete — I love to get in the zone and play ball.”
The Women’s Football Alliance was designed to “create the largest and most competitive women’s tackle football league in the world,” according to its website. The WFA now has teams in 32 states, as well as a team in Canada.
Many players in the league were former Division I athletes in other sports who have found football as a way to continue to play competitive sports at a high level.
“Football became my new sanctuary after collegiate athletics,” Shields said. “I was done with college and back home with any of the comforts of my athletic career continuing. I wanted to find something to help me feel whole and complete and I know I couldn’t do it without organized ball.
“You get a gainful social club in addition to a sports team and it all becomes my football family and I cant live with out it,” she continued. “My football world is amazing and I love to be in it and be the example to my younger teammates who are on their own journey and be there for them, because my sisters are always here for me.”