Katelyn Polenik’s passion for football began on the playground, where she lined up alongside the boys in her Penns Manor class during recess and dreamed of the day when she could trade her flags for the real deal .

“At recess, I was always with the boys playing flag football. … I wanted to practice the real sport of football,” said Polenik. “Growing up in a small town, in a small school, it wasn’t exactly the most common thing and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to play. »

Polenik finally got her chance on April 9, when she qualified for her first game as a rookie linebacker for the Pittsburgh Passion, a full-tackle women’s soccer team in the Women’s Football Alliance.

The 2018 Penns Manor graduate fell in love with football organically.

Her family were casual fans, her uncle played in high school, and she grew up cheering on Penn State, but the sport called her name in an unexpected way.

She began helping the Comets varsity football team from the sidelines in third grade, starting with water and ball duties and eventually moving on to assisting the athletic trainer.

“I just wanted to get involved in any way I could,” Polenik said. “I looked forward to every game – home or away, playoffs, district or state title games. It was just a sport that I saw and always wanted to play, but I never felt like I had that opportunity to get on the court.

While soccer seemed out of reach for Polenik, she found opportunities in other sports growing up.

She participated in basketball, softball, volleyball, and track and field at Penns Manor, where she was six-time state qualified in track and field and setter and volleyball captain for four years.

After graduating from high school, Polenik received basic training at the United States Military Academy before changing aspirations and attending IUP, where she was a member of the Crimson Hawks athletics until graduating in December 2021.

It was during her senior semester that Polenik discovered one of Passion’s social media posts announcing trials.

“I had never heard of the team before,” admitted Polenik. “It’s been around since I was two or three years old, but I’ve never heard of it. I was just scrolling through social media and came across their essay post. I was moving to Pittsburgh, so everything went well. Once I saw the tryouts, I was so excited that I wanted to go the next day.

Polenik jumped at the chance, attending the second of three practice sessions in the fall, where she was timed and scored on various skills to determine if she would make the team.

The decision process took about a month, but the wait was worth it once Polenik got the call from co-trainers Teresa Conn and Lisa Horton that she was on the roster.

“It was something I wanted to do since I was so young, and when my phone turned on, my heart stopped,” Polenik said. “Coach Theresa and Coach Lisa let me know that I made the team and just wanted to get started right away. I was ready to go.”

While Polenik was grateful and excited to have the opportunity to play for the Passion, the road to the opener was not easy.

The 57 women who make up the Pittsburgh roster are unpaid. In fact, players rely heavily on individual and team sponsors to keep their seasons going.

That means these athletes have jobs and other commitments outside of football, including Polenik, who currently works full-time as a contract professional with Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. in Monroeville while studying for his master’s degree. online at Texas A&M International University.

“It gets very busy,” Polenik said. “I tend to fill my plate pretty full. I like to stay busy. It’s a choice I make and my teammates make. … It’s a lot of early mornings and late nights and little free time; but everything i do every day is something i am passionate about and something i want to do. That’s what makes all the difference. If you put all your skills, effort, and energy into things that really mean a lot in your life, then that’s all that matters. Time will work itself out, and you will eventually understand.

That level of hard work and dedication led Polenik and the Passion to a 27-8 win over Detroit in their season opener and the team’s first game in two years.

“It was very rewarding to see everyone come together and put into practice what we have developed over the past few months,” said Polenik. “At the end of the day, we all still show up for two or three hour practices a few days a week. The best part is playing alongside all these amazing athletes, being coached by some of the best and putting ourselves through their paces.

On a personal level, the game was the realization of a childhood dream.

“It was something I always wanted to do, and finally being able to put on that shirt and black eyes and go out and play was amazing,” Polenik said.

The experience only solidified Polenik’s love for football in his personality and life.

“I’ve only been with the Passion for four months, but I feel like I’ve been with them for so much longer because of the impact it’s had on my life,” Polenik said. “I just want to contribute as much as I can to this team. … Whether it’s playing, coaching or helping in any way I can, I just want to have the same positive impact and effect on the team. team than on my life.

This positive impact is part of the Passion’s mission statement of cultivating “core values ​​of character” and sharing the “wonderful lessons taught when people learn their meaning firsthand” through sport, and it is something she wants others to experience as well.

“Once you find an opportunity, jump on it. Don’t wait,” Polenik said. “If it’s something you wanted to do, if it’s something you’re passionate about or want to be involved in, jump on it. If you realize it might not have been the right thing to do, then you can back off. But you have to jump on things, soak up experiences, and live your life.

The Pittsburgh Passion’s home opener is scheduled for April 30 against the Tri-State Warriors. Kick-off is at 6 p.m. at West Allegheny High School at Imperial.

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