There are a lot of unique days for Ole Miss athletics, but none more than this one each summer.
The sixth annual Ladies Football Forum was held Saturday, and when some 250 Rebel women were led by Coach Ed Orgeron up the tunnel and out through the smoke onto the Hollingsworth Field turf at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium early in the day, it looked and sounded almost like gameday.
Chyna Ward, senior staff assistant for football under Tommy Tuberville, David Cutcliffe, and Orgeron, started this event in 2001. It's turned into one of the summer's highlights for those involved and especially for the participants, many of them returnees each year.
"We had like 60 new people join us this year, but we have a lot of the same ones we've seen every year," said Ward, who has a long list of staffers and volunteers that help make sure things go smoothly from 7 a.m. when things get started to 5 p.m. when a tired but happy bunch of Lady Rebels head for home.
"We've had several of the ladies here all six years," said Ward, who names them just like you would a football player for six years. There are freshmen, redshirt freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and those who have received a "medical redshirt." The last group are the six-year members, and Ward said she may have to change the way she ranks them as they move into year seven next summer.
The event had been in July until this year when it was moved to June. Next year the Ladies Football Forum will be on June 23.
"It's a lot of work and it's a year-long process," Ward said. "The women just get so excited about it every year, and it gives them the opportunity to go behind the scenes with Ole Miss football, something most of our fans would love to get to do, even for a day, but rarely get the opportunity to do."
The day started with Coach O rallying the troops in the Rebels' locker room before the tunnel and field entry, which is always a highlight.
"He got us all fired up in there and told us today's game was 10-0 Ole Miss vs. 10-0 LSU," said Susie Schnadelbach, who was one of those "medical redshirt" members, meaning she's attended every year the event has been held. "When he said 1-2-3, and we yelled ‘Rebels' we were ready to go."
That was all after an individual picture session with each participant and Coach O. Following the trip through the smoke and onto the field, the members were divided into five groups. Each group headed for a different area of the IPF. Some went to the weight room where staffers, along with Robert Lane, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Jamarca Sanford, and Jason Cook, awaited them for some demonstrations.
In the locker room, Patrick Willis modeled the official Ole Miss uniform. There were also visits to the training room, where Carlos Suggs and Lawrence Lilly assisted the staff in the presentation, the equipment room, and also a highlights video in the team meeting room showing Ole Miss football clips from the 1940s and into the new century.
During lunch in the south end zone, the ladies heard from assistant coaches David Saunders, Tony Hughes, Ryan Nielsen, Matt Lubick, and Hugh Freeze. After lunch assistant coaches Dan Werner, Art Kehoe, and Chris Rippon made presentations, and there was a kicking demonstration by Jonathan Nichols, Sidney McLaurin, and Rob Park.
Assistant coach Frank Wilson then followed that up with a presentation. Buddy Patey, SEC Techincal Advisor, made some remarks, and former Rebel turned Seattle Seahawk Chris Spencer finished out the days activities with his remarks. All the sessions included Q&A at the end. Coach O then bid the ladies farewell until next summer.
Hunter Spiers made her first trip to the Forum this weekend. It was a Mother's Day present for her and one the UM alum and lifelong Rebel football fan couldn't have been happier to have received.
"It's just been so exciting," she said. "I've been looking forward to this for a while. It's nice to be able to find out what goes on behind the scenes and to get to ask the players and staff members questions. We can see for ourselves that it's more than just what we see at the games."
Linda Whitten was making her third trip. Juanita Skinner is in her fourth year with the LFF.
"Just running out on the field makes it all worthwhile, but there is so much more," Whitten said. "I actually get emotional at times doing this. It really is meaningful to me."
"I bleed red and blue, so you know I love it," Skinner said. "It makes you appreciate all the hard work the kids, coaches, and staff members go through. And these are such super kids and role models. Just being around them reaffirms my belief in Ole Miss."
Lane said he's happy to spend time with some of the Rebels' most ardent supporters.
"It's great to see so many ladies supporting Ole Miss football," the fourth-year junior tight end said. "It's really a lot of fun for us and we're happy to do it. They all seem to really enjoy it, and that's what it's all about."
Mary Katherine McKell from Jackson was one of the juniors in the program, meaning it was her third time to be a LFF participant.
"I love being around all this," she said. "Getting to meet the players is great. I had read about it on the Spirit website, and I knew I wanted to do it. It's a great thing for us to get to do."
Ward says she hopes the event will continue to grow and looks forward to getting even more ladies who love Ole Miss to become a part of the annual activities.
"More and more women are getting out of the Grove and getting into the stands," she said. "That's really what it's all about."
6th Ladies Football Forum another success
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