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Central alumni to play pro football

August 27, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO — When Melissa Gallegos was growing up in El Centro, she often played football in her back yard with her family and friends, just because she liked the sport.

Serious thoughts never crossed her mind about a future in football, but this summer that changed.

While at home in San Diego, Gallegos and her roommate, Zugey Velarde, also formerly of El Centro, were informed about a San Diego-based football team starting as part of the Women's American Football League.

After searching for more information on how and where to sign up, the two found themselves in a tryout camp for the San Diego Sunfire on July 14.

Last weekend the 22-year-old Gallegos and the 21-year-old Velarde, both Central Union High graduates, were back in a mini-camp for the Sunfire trying to make the squad.

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Later, as they listened after practice to coaches read off names of those not making the team, their nerves tensed, wondering if and when their names would be read

Then it happened, or it didn't happen. Neither was named among the 90 players not making the team.

"I was in shock at first because an opportunity like this doesn't come around very often," said the 5-foot-5 Gallegos, who played basketball and competed in powder puff football at Central. "I am most definitely excited. Back when I was growing up, doing something like this was just a dream. Now I get to do it. There really are no words to say how I feel."

Said 5-foot-4 Velarde, who played softball and also competed in powder puff football in high school: "I've always liked football and I always said that if something like this ever came to San Diego, I wanted to play."

The WAFL is considered the top professional women's football league in North America, playing full contact NFL rules football.

The Sunfire will play 10 games in the 12-week regular season starting Nov. 3 and running through Jan. 19. The team will play in the Pacific Conference's South Division.

While Gallegos and Velarde have made the 80-person roster, they still have to fight for playing time. Even though the Sunfire will carry 80 players, only 60 will get to suit up, with the other 20 on the practice squad.

Gallegos will take her shot at quarterback. Velarde will vie for a spot as a receiver.

For Gallegos, the Sunfire isn't just a football team in a football league, but a chance for women to play in a sport dominated by men.

"I honestly think this means more to women than it does to men. Men have always had football available to them and women haven't," said Gallegos. "I've always loved football and I feel the same about football like I do about other sports. I think there's a lot of women who feel the same way.

"This will be an opportunity for women to show that they can play football and do well," said Gallegos. "For me, I'm just going to play my hardest because that's what it's going to take. Right now, there's no turning back."

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