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Thelma Banks takes football seriously.
She’s always watched and known about football. Her dad coached football. Her brother played football for the University of Cincinnati.
And since 2004, the Radcliff woman has played the game. On the field, she’s known as Thelma “Bonecrusher” Banks.
At 40, she’s the owner and a player for Louisville’s Derby City Dynamite semi-pro women’s football team.
A military spouse, Banks began playing football when her family came to Kentucky from Belgium, where she played rugby. Sports programs are something every duty station has, she said, and are a good way get involved in a new community.
From 2004 until the team disbanded in 2010 when the owner retired, Banks played for the Kentucky Karma women’s football team.
Banks and five other ladies she played with later founded the Derby City Dynamite. The team’s first season was in 2011.
The league plays full-tackle football using NFL rules as well as some NCAA rules. They wear complete football uniforms including helmets and pads, she said.
She said it is automatically assumed women play flag football.
The team travels and plays others from Boston to California. Many also participate in Team USA, traveling to other countries.
No. 72 on the field, Banks has played every position on the offensive line and even some defense. Currently the team center and a kicker, she’s also played tackle and guard.
Her favorite memories from football are when she blocks a safety.
“Anyone who plays line would absolutely understand that,” she said.
The safety is probably the smallest, fastest person on the field and being able get to and block them is rewarding, she said.
The camaraderie and ability to hit people without consequence drew Banks to football, she said.
“There’s no other sport where you find the kind of camaraderie you find with women’s football,” she said.
As a lineman, she protects the players behind her. As a member of the team, she said, you have to trust the women next to you.
“It’s like being in the military. You have to rely on the person next to you to do their job in order for everything to be complete. That’s what football is,” she said.
That camaraderie is something teammate Tish Baker feels about Banks. Baker began playing with Banks with Kentucky Karma in 2004.
Baker was 18 then and Banks was a role model, showing her the ropes.
“She’s an outstanding person on the field and off,” Baker said. “She takes football very seriously.”
As a military spouse, finding a way to connect with other women is important, Banks said.
“Your teammates become your family,” she said.
She can call on them for babysitting or anything else she needs.
Banks has been surprised by the variety of professions represented on the playing field. Banks works for Human Resources Command at Fort Knox. Other players are doctors, sergeants major and housewives.
One player, whose mom also is on the team, just graduated from high school. This mother-daughter duo represent the oldest and youngest players on the team at ages 18 and 50.
Some players drive from as far away as West Virginia to play, Banks said.
Training begins in January and the team played their last official game of the season in June. They play pick-up games over the summer to let new players get experience.
During training, conditioning is great for weight loss, Banks said. She’s lost 50 pounds while playing.
All the hard work pays off. Four women on the team, including Banks, made the all-American team and will travel to San Diego to play in an all-star game in August.
Although they do play full contact, Banks doesn’t think women and men can play on the same field. She would prefer a professional women’s league like the WNBA in basketball.
The Dynamites are semi-pro, meaning they don’t get paid to play, but it is a step forward in showing women can play the game.
“I just wanted to have the opportunity to do something that everybody says we can’t,” she said.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting to know Thelma Banks:
For more information about the Derby City Dynamite or to learn how to be a part of the team, go to www.derbycitydynamite.com or email email@example.com. For more information on women’s football across the country, go to the league website, www.wfa.net.