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Maine Mayhem celebrates 20 years of women's football

Maine's full-contact women's football team has changed its name over its 20-year history, but the mission remains the same.

PORTLAND, Maine — It was a typical spring day around Maine on Saturday. In Portland, it was a little overcast and windy, and if you closed your eyes it would have also felt like a crisp fall evening. 

If you opened your eyes at Memorial Stadium in Portland, it definitely would have looked like fall.

The Maine Mayhem women's football team put the pads on Saturday evening as the team marked its 20th year playing in the state.

“I actually didn’t know about Maine women’s football for a long time, and I was 52 years old when I first discovered it, and I thought what the heck I’m going to give it a shot and try playing," General Manager Kate Archambault said.

The team has gone through a few name changes and played in different leagues since 2002. Some of the members of the original 2002 Maine Freeze team were honored before the game.

Helmets and jerseys from the Freeze, the Southern Maine Rebels, and the Maine Lynx were on display near the Mayhem's bench to show off the past teams.

The Mayhem play in the Women's Football Alliance. There are more than 70 teams in the league from across the country. Maine plays in the third division of the league and plays against teams in the New England region.

On Saturday, the Mayhem played against the Connecticut Hawks in the team's second to last home game of the regular season. 

Before the first drive of the game, Archambault said she's seen the interest and participation grow over the past few years.

“We have about 30 girls on the roster now," she said.

The team allows players like fullback and linebacker Chloe Brzycki the chance to continue their athletic careers. She moved to Maine from Virginia in 2014 after playing softball in college. 

“Sometimes there’s nothing past college. You make it through college, and you’re done playing competitively. So to know that [there are] teams out there that you can still get that competitive drive, you can still get that comradery is huge," she added.

The team practices for three hours on Saturdays and two hours on Wednesdays. Brzycki said it takes a lot of commitment to play and strap up the pads every week.

“We can teach the skills, but the heart is something the girls bring to the team," she added.

Haylee Graves of Brunswick has been around football for most of her life. Her brother started playing around the same time she played with the boys her age.

“I was that one little girl who given the opportunity has made a huge career out of it, so it’s kind of surreal to be what we promote," she added.

The team is committed to inspiring the next generation of women athletes. The Mayhem host a Girls of Fall game every year, when they invite girls who play on boys' high school football teams in Maine and around New England. 

This year, the game will be played at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at Memorial Stadium in Portland. 

“I’ve always loved football. I’ve always loved sports, and it always irritated me as a kid that we didn’t have the opportunity, so I do everything I can to advance things for women and young girls so we can have the same opportunities that the boys have and I think we deserve that," Archambault added.

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