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FOOTBALL CLASSES : Women Tackle Basics of Baffling 'Guys' Sport


For many women, watching a football game is about as much fun as tinkering with a car. Many say they just don't get the attraction of the sport.

"Why do guys get all excited about this game? You know, they start jumping up and down and yelling," said Laura Loftsgaarden, a postal worker in her early 30s who lives in Los Angeles. "You know how it is when you're watching something that you don't understand and everyone else does?"

Loftsgaarden is one of about 100 people, almost all of them women, who have sought to solve at least part of the mystery recently at one of the Learning Annex's three-hour lectures, "Understanding Football." For $39, students were taught the basic rules and strategies of the game--though some discovered that to know football is not necessarily to love it.

"I thought it would be more complicated," said Loftsgaarden, who attended the lecture last month. "It's kind of a silly thing to get so worked up over."

Although the class opened her eyes to football, Loftsgaarden's new understanding actually has closed doors with some of the men she meets.

"They clam up, like they don't want you to know how much they know, and they want to know how much you know before they'll say anything," she said.

The lecture is offered several times--before and during the football season--and attracts about 20 students each time. (The last one for this season will be held Tuesday in Culver City.) A handful of men, mostly immigrants, have taken the course, but more than 90% of the students are women, said Steve Shia, who has been teaching "Understanding Football" for the two years the Learning Annex has offered it.

Shia played semipro football for nine years and had several tryouts in the 1970s with National Football League teams, including the Cardinals, Redskins, Colts and Bills.

Now a teacher, Shia's goal is to show his students that football is more than a group of helmeted men in tight pants running amok on a field after an oblong ball. By the end of the class, most seem to understand that teamwork and survival skills are critical to winning a game, he said.

"Women don't learn these skills at an early age, but men are picking it up in midget football and Pop Warner," Shia asserted. "I figure there is a spouse or a significant other they want to spend time with, and that's why they want to know about the game."

The notion of standing by her man led 52-year-old Renee Spinak to take the class in August. She is dating an avid UCLA football fan and, for her, "Understanding Football" was a form of relationship therapy.

"It's hard enough to make any relationship work--the more you have in common, the easier it is to get along," she said. "I can't think of too many women who like football who weren't inspired by a man."

Her boyfriend, Jim Snodgrass, is a member of the UCLA alumni band, which plays during tailgate parties before UCLA's home games. That means that Spinak has spent many weekends during the football season at the Rose Bowl, but now the games are less boring for her, she said.

"She seems to understand what's going on, but I'm not sure she understands the intricacies of the game," Snodgrass said.

Thanks to Shia, Spinak and other students at least have the answers to rudimentary questions they have pondered for years. Spinak's biggest surprise was finding out that each football team has both an offensive squad and a defensive squad.

"I thought the punter and the quarterback were the same person," said Mary Hixson, 47, a chiropractor in Lawndale for the past 15 years. "I can't believe the punter is just there to kick."

She seems to be an exception to the rule in Shia's classes. Most women say they attended so that they can share interest in football with the men in their lives, but Hixson said she simply was tired of being isolated from the sport.

"When I was married, my husband and I would have people over to watch the game, and I would stand in the kitchen cooking, wondering what's going on," she remembered. "There would be women there, too, but they'd be like me, just sitting there not knowing anything and just cheering when the men did."

Shia encourages the students to think of a football game as if it were a war. Both have the same purpose, to gain land, and there can be only one winner and one loser, he explains.

Even the slang is similar, Shia pointed out. "There is 'a battle in the trenches,' quarterbacks are the 'field generals,' the teams use 'offensive weapons' and apply 'tactics,' and the players throw 'bombs,' " he recited.

Shia elaborates on this war analogy as he describes the players, the kickoff, first downs, defensive and offensive strategies, and special teams.

After gaining an understanding of the game, some graduates said, football reminds them more of real life than of a battlefield. The tactics that football players use on the field are similar to the skills needed to succeed in business, they say.

"If you hit first, you've got an advantage, but if you wait, you're going to get hurt," said Leslie Nadell, the mother of a 13-year-old son who plays on a Pop Warner league team and is aspiring to play in the NFL.

It's too bad girls do not learn the basics of football at an early age, Hixson observed.

"They might be better equipped to survive in the working world," she said.

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