When you think of the city of Pittsburgh, you think of two colors: black and gold.
Professional sports teams in Pittsburgh all share the same team colors, a rarity among sports towns but for a town such as Pittsburgh, it seems fitting. The teams play with a certain style, a hard-nosed attitude and a Passion.
Yes, Passion with a capital “P.”
You see, the Passion of Pittsburgh is more than an idea. It’s a women’s football league and they’re heading the Independent Women’s Football League Playoffs, which begin this Saturday.
But just as the Passion’s journey has come a long way, so, too has their running back’s journey.
Ciara Chic, a Riverside, West Virginia, native and former track All-American at West Virginia University, grew up wanting to be a football player.
Because her older brother was a football player.
“I wanted to be just like him and be better than him. That was my goal my whole life,” Chic said. “He was a constant push. He was a running back in high school. He had scholarships to go play football at West Virginia Wesleyan but just decided college wasn’t for him.”
If she couldn’t get on the football field and score more touchdowns than her older brother, she would do the next best thing, she decided: run track.
And she became pretty good, still holding numerous track and meet records throughout the state of West Virginia, eventually landing a scholarship to run at WVU.
Her illustrious track history led her to earn All-American honors during her freshman season as a member of the distance medley relay team in 2001, and her indoor time in the 60-meter dash is still good for third best in the school’s history.
After graduating WVU with a dual-major in archeology and social work, Chic headed to graduate school at Ball State, where she helped coach track while earning her master’s degree.
Of course, being a top-level athlete like she was, she couldn’t get away from sports even while still pursuing an education. But post-graduation, she moved to Pittsburgh and set off to work in the archeology field.
That was until she made a trip home to West Virginia after having surgery.
Sitting around the living room with her mother watching high school football on TV, Chic saw a commercial that would pull her athletic spirits back to the forefront of her life.
“I saw an ad for the Passion,” Chic said. “I told my mom that I wanted to play and that I was going to go try out. Then when I got back to Pittsburgh, I found out that one of my neighbors actually played for the Passion. So I met her and tried out the next week.”
But with her archeology job waiting for her back in Pittsburgh, the speedster had to make a decision.
“I had to make a rare decision. I had to get a salary job and stay at home since archeology season is football season,” she said.
So she used her other degree in social work to become a case manager in Pittsburgh and decided to pursue playing football.
Five years later and the one-time sprinter is still putting on the pads for one of the IWFL’s top teams.
But it wasn’t a cake walk cracking the lineup, even for someone with Chic’s kind of speed.
“I had the speed but I didn’t have the knowledge of the game yet,” Chic said of her first few seasons, in which she spent her time as a second- and sometimes third-string running back for the team. “They played me maybe the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. Maybe I got to score; maybe I didn’t.”
When Chic first joined the team, running the ball wasn’t much of a priority. But just as the NFL has seen an increase in passing the ball, the Passion took the opposite approach this season and have turned to their ground game, with Chic in the forefront in what she called an “even keel” style of offense.
Playing for the Passion has been a dream come true for Chic, who recently went over the 1,000 yard mark for her career as a running back.
For her, the Passion exemplifies what Pittsburgh is all about.
“We’re the face of women’s football, I feel like. We come out like the professionals that we are. People who come to our games are pleasantly surprised,” Chic said. “We have hard hitters and we play smashmouth football. When you put on that helmet, it doesn’t matter who’s under the pads.”
To compete in the same city as the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most storied NFL franchises, one would think that women’s football could take a back seat. But quite the opposite, Chic said.
“(Pittsburgh has) always known us. We’ve been here for a while and they love us. They embrace us. We’re in a football town and it’s still a pro sport,” she said. “Our fans travel well. It’s cool to look in the stands and see a thousand fans. People think, oh, who comes to your games? Just your family? No, trust me. We have fans that are just as diehard as the Steelers’ fans.”
The Passion have been pioneers in women’s athletics, especially when it comes to football.
The team has its games featured on ROOT Sports right after the Pirates. They were the first women’s team to play live on ESPN3. And they’ve been fortunate enough to develop a relationship with the Rooney family and were able to host a National Championship game at Heinz Field.
It just makes sense that Chic, who ushered in the first graduating class of Riverside High School, would be a big part of that success.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.
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