Mary Frandson and her dad bonded over football.
Growing up in rural Minnesota two hours northwest of the Twin Cities, Frandson, once a nine handicap golfer at Paynesville, watched Gophers and Vikings games alongside father John. Her love traveled to Collegeville, where she watched Division III powerhouse St. John's while attending St. Ben's.
Frandson ventured to New York City for graduate school, returning home to become an English professor at St. Thomas in 2010. Earlier this year, the 36-year-old former part-time personal trainer was searching for a new butt-kicking workout. She stumbled upon the web site for the Minnesota Vixen, the Minneapolis women's professional team that plays its spring and summer games at Simley High in Inver Grove Heights.
A NFL Combine-like tryout followed Frandson's phone call with Vixen coach Brandon Pelinka.
"I was hesitant about doing this, but they were really welcoming about all types of people coming in, participating, and training us," she says. "For me, it has something to do with a serious love for the game, and when you get to a certain age, just finding different ways to keep fit and to do something different with the body, it's exciting. I'm looking forward to challenging myself, pushing my body to see what it can do and to have fun with it."
Footwork drills and pylons with a personal trainer have replaced Frandson's days of strength training and conditioning. That's when she's not leading students in discussions about "how literary genres grow out of a need for expression of what it means to be an American."
Offensive and defensive playbooks were recently handed out. Later this month, Frandson and teammates will head to the athletic facilities at Northwestern Science University in Bloomington for thrice weekly, three-hour practices.
Between then and the team's first season game tentatively scheduled for April 1, Frandson expects their will be cuts.
"It's nerve-wracking," she says. "Obviously, everyone won't be able to suit up, especially since the team will be playing in a new league, which is a big deal."
Established in 1999, the Vixen represent the longest continuously operating women's football team in the country. Last year's team finished a perfect 8-0 in the Independent Women's Football League. Its players don't get paid and are personally responsible for fundraising to cover much of the travel and practice expenses.
Come 2017, the Vixen will join the Women's Football Alliance, arguably the highest caliber of female competition in America. It's definitely the largest, with dozens of franchises scattered across such cities as Boston, St. Louis, and Dallas.
"As an athlete, you want to compete against the best," says Frandson. "You look at last season, the Vixen crushed so many of their opponents.… After that, the coach felt the team was ready to move up. [The Alliance] is the NFL equivalent for women.
"It's exciting and such an honor to be part of this organization."