By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
In her many years of coaching, Shelley Monas has coached a myriad of athletes in a number of sports.
None were as unlikely, or challenging, as her latest endeavor.
Monas is in her second season as head coach of the Erie Illusion in the Independent Women’s Football League.
“A former player of mine who played tennis for at Iroquois, Mary Butler, got to talking with some of the players and my name came up,” Monas said. “They looked at each other and said it was worth a try. Facebook brings people together. I came on as a consultant to bring them together as a family and ended up being the head coach.”
The IWFL is a full tackle women's football league focused on creating a positive, safe and fun environment for the women who play the game and fans that come out to watch them. The league was founded in 2000 by a group of women dedicated to making the sport a household name and currently boasts more than 1,600 women playing the sport for 51 teams across North America.
In essence, the league is a perfect fit for Monas, who has long been teaching the principles it takes to be not only a good athlete, but a good person, to the young girls and women she has mentored.
Monas like’s a challenge and she was certainly in a place where she was, if not actively seeking one, ready to take one on.
“Women’s football is intriguing,” Monas said. “I’ve coached a lot of sports and for 35 years I coached softball. I was at a time in my life I needed a challenge. I needed to try something else. You only grow when you get out of your comfort zone. I found it intriguing.”
And a challenge is exactly what it was for Monas, who had to not only learn the Xs and Os of football, but had to learn them well enough to teach them to a group of women who really had no real background in the sport.
“I got together with some very good people at Perry. (Perry football coach) Matt Rosati and I worked at it. I studied them. He let me spend time with the coaches and boys this summer and fall.
“The challenge is the fact that the women haven’t been trained, like the guys have been, from the time they were little gridders. The challenge is players come to us and want to play, but the we have to teach them the basic fundamentals to get them ready.”
That evidently hasn’t been much of a problem for Monas, who was 154-26 (.854) in seven seasons as the softball coach at Edgewood. She won her first game as a football coach. And she was responsible for calling both the offense and defense that day. She led the Illusion to within a game of the playoffs in her first season at the helm.
The Illusion are in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season and Monas is recruiting women who were in much the same mode she was as she took on her latest role.
“Many of our players are retiring and we’re rebuilding,” Monas said. “We want players who want a new challenge.
“I’m in Ohio and need an Ohio connection. We want women who loved the sport and wanted to play as kids but couldn’t because the opportunities weren’t there. Now they have the opportunity to play the game.”
Those athletes who become part of the Illusion will be doing so at a good time.
“This is the organization’s 11th year,” Monas said. “We’re starting a new chapter in Illusion history. We have five returning players and need to rebuild. We’re looking at that gal who loves sports, who wanted to play but couldn’t when they were young because the opportunities weren’t there or they weren’t allowed to.
“We also want those women who competed in high school and college and maybe want to keep competing, or want to stay in shape.”
Monas has make the hard sell to get players, but once the players actually get suited up and get into the playing the game, the women are hooked. Just like Monas was after getting on board.
“Once they start playing, they love it,” Monas said. “They’re like me. Once I started coaching, I loved it.”
Many who have watched Monas over the years would not be surprised to see her succeed as a football coach. Much of the way she has coached falls in line with the way football coaches operate.
“In football, you have to have an attention to detail,” Monas said. “There are 11 people on the field who have to be working together on offense, defense and special teams.”
In her first season, Monas won her very first game and led the Illusion to a 4-4 record. At her side, as always, was her sister, Sharon, who had to be wondering what her sister had gotten her into with this latest adventure.
“She said that if anybody could do it, Shelley could,” Monas said, relaying the answer from her sister. “She knew where I was at, that I needed a challenge.
“Sharon helped me on the sideline with stats — down and distance, that sort of thing. In the fall she helped with clinics. She helped split things up a bit. She worked with the quarterbacks and helped them run through drills. She threw balls for the wide receiver drills.”
Monas loves coaching football and turning women onto the sport.
“I tried it and it’s been a great challenge,” she said. “I love to be able to turn women on to the game. You have to have a unique skill set for football, but no matter what talent or size and strength you have, there’s a place for you on the football field.
“All shapes and sizes of people can find joy in playing the game and there’s a place for them.”
The Illusion will begin workouts soon and will have open tryouts and practices beginning Jan. 6. Players looking for a tryout, or even women who are curious about the team and the league, should contact the Illusion by going to its website, www.erieillusion.com and clicking on the “Contact us” link. Express your interest and the organization will follow up.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.