Lori Burkholder has a passion for football, so it seems appropriate that she plays for the Pittsburgh Passion, a professional full-contact team in the Women’s Football Alliance.
Burkholder, a graduate of Carmichaels High School and California University, is one of a handful of players who have been with the Passion for the 11 seasons the organization has been in existence.
“There are six of us left,” said Burkholder, who plays fullback. “I love this game. It keeps me occupied and in shape.”
This season, the Passion will have a new home, Highmark Stadium in Station Square, which the team will share with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team. The stadium seats up to 4,000 fans, and tonight’s season-opening game against the D.C. Divas is sold out.
Pittsburgh plays in the Northeast Division – one of 13 that make up the league – with the D.C. Divas and the Columbus Comets. Three home games from the Passion’s eight-game schedule will be televised, but the opener will not. The Passion’s former home was Cupples Stadium on Pittsburgh’s South Side.
“When we played (at Cupples Stadium), the home side was always packed,” said Burkholder. “The new stadium is really nice.”
Burkholder is one of two local women on the roster. Cynthia Roberts, a graduate of Chartiers-Houston High School, is in her first season and plays on the defensive line.
“We’re truly like a sisterhood,” Burkholder said.
The Passion battled injuries last season but still managed to compile an 8-2 record. There was frustration after a first-round playoff loss to the Divas because Pittsburgh was hosting the league’s championship game at Heinz Field in August and the team hoped to play in it.
It was the first women’s football league game played at an NFL stadium and was televised on ESPN3. The San Diego surge won the title with a 40-36 victory over the Chicago Force. The last time Pittsburgh won a league championship was 2007.
This year’s championship game will be played in San Diego.
“We’ve been on a roll,” said Teresa Conn, who is the associate head coach. “Last year, we ended up (losing) our starting quarterback and running back. We had a lot of injuries. I expect we have a team that can take it all this year. You never know how things will unfold.”
Pittsburgh has 15 coaches, including former Bentworth High School football coach Lou Rood. Conn turned over most of the head coaching responsibilities to Muzzy Colosimo, the former football coach at Greensburg Central Catholic, so she can handle more of the organizational duties.
“Everyone is a volunteer,” said Conn. “And everyone has jobs to do.”
Conn played on the 2002 team and was head coach for the past three seasons. She views the move to a new stadium as a possible springboard for the team.
“Our fans follow us anywhere,” she said. “They are very loyal. It’s nice to be at Station Square. It’s easy to get to, and there is a lot of parking.”
Players help the team raise money by obtaining sponsorships. Among those that Burkholder has is Walmart in Waynesburg and Ansell Tire in McClellandtown.
“I have a lot of people who support me,” said Burkholder. “I really love to play. I’m not sure for how much longer. I guess I will retire someday. If I do decide to retire, then maybe I’ll get into coaching.”