Debra Miller doesn't hesitate to correct people when they make assumptions about her new Baltimore women's football team.
"They always say, 'Oh, flag football? Two-hand touch? That's nice,'" said Miller, 47, who teaches middle school in Bel Air and has played tackle football for seven years. "They just can't picture women playing tackle. They don't believe that women can hit."
But hit they do.
Yesterday, about 20 women came to Forge Field off York Road north of the city line to try out for the Baltimore Nighthawks, the area's newest tackle football team. Between grueling drills and roughhousing, the hopefuls couldn't stop talking about the sheer aggression of the game.
"I just want my chance to hit," said Carmen Everett, 28.
Everett, a single mother of four boys, works full time as a certified medical assistant and volunteers at her sons' recreational football leagues. But she didn't hesitate to squeeze yesterday's tryouts into her frenetic schedule.
"Everyone asks, 'Why would you want to play football?' Well, why wouldn't I want to play? I love this game," said Everett, who lives in Aberdeen.
And her boys think she's the coolest mom ever.
For many players, yesterday's tryouts served as their first official opportunity to play the game they've always loved. Hopefuls included mothers and grandmothers, waitresses and store clerks, a graduate student, a construction company supervisor and one mother-daughter pair.
"Growing up, I played tackle with my brothers all the time, with no pads of course - I was their practice dummy," said Linda Kadire, 25, of Baltimore, who is pursuing a master's degree in biology and working part time at an insurance company. "But I never thought I would have the opportunity to play for real."
The Nighthawks are the newest members of the Independent Women's Football League, a nonprofit Texas-based organization. Established in 2000 by a group of women, the league has about 1,000 women playing the sport for 30 teams nationwide and in Canada.
The Nighthawks are recruiting a roster of 52, but whether players are paid depends on ticket sales. The team's owners are searching for a permanent field for the start of the eight-game regular season, which runs from March through July.
While the rules, equipment and fundamentals of the game are the same as the men's game, women's football has been a tough sell, said Ray Einolf, one of the Nighthawks' co-owners.
"I hate to say it, but some men think they can't play just because they are women," said Einolf, who worked for the Baltimore Burn, another women's football team. "But once they see them play, they see how much fun they are to watch. They are very competitive."
That determination came through as players forced themselves to continue yesterday despite bad knees and sore muscles.
"They work hard. They don't complain. They just jump right in, and that's important," said Warren Cooper, the Nighthawks' assistant head coach. "I think that they are not only trying to prove something to their families, but also to themselves."
Angelia Presberry, 38, of Edgewood broke an ankle during a game her first season playing defensive line for the Baltimore Burn. She was back in uniform three games later, she said. She played her final three games of last season with a cast on her hand after a broken thumb.
After a drill, Heather Howard, 27, of Columbia lay on the grass, groaning in agony as a coach helped her stretch her quadriceps. But moments later, she was sprinting to the next drill.
"It's just some kinks in my legs," she said. "No pain, no gain."
The next tryouts will be from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Wheaton Forest Local Park, 1700 University Blvd. West, Wheaton. For more information, call Debra Miller at 443-858-0156.