Friday, October 9, 2020

Dale takes spotlight as Hilltops first female player

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Emmarae Dale is the Hilltops first female player.
When media from the big cities came calling, Emmarae Dale really realized just how big her addition to the Saskatoon Hilltops roster was.

On September 15, the Hilltops announced that Dale was officially added to the team’s roster at linebacker making her the team’s first female player. Having been a member of the Saskatoon Valkyries women’s football team and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s track and field team for four seasons each, Dale expected to be interviewed by members of the Saskatoon media, and she has interacted with a number of those media members in the past.

She did about seven or eight interviews on the day the Hilltops made the announcement.

When she started getting interview requests from media members all across Western Canada including big cities like Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, the significance of becoming the Hilltops first female player and what is believed to be the first female added to the roster of a CJFL team became greater.

“It definitely started to get real at that point,” said Dale, who has also done interviews for national outlets. “That was when it sort of sunk in this is something bigger than I even realize.

“I kind of realized this is a big moment in history. It is not anything I should be taking lightly at all.”

The 22-year-old played four seasons at linebacker for the Valkyries from 2016 to 2019 helping them win Western Women’s Canadian Football League titles in 2016 and 2019. After joining the powerhouse women’s tackle football team, Dale quickly became one of the squad’s best defensive players.

On top of playing for the Valkyries, Dale competed with the Huskies track and field team for the last four seasons at the U Sports level in throwing events. She helped the Huskies women’s team win the last three straight Canada West Conference titles.

Emmarae Dale dished out big hits for the Valkyries.
Her play for the Valkyries and athletic ability attracted the attention of storied Hilltops, who have won 22 CJFL titles since the modern version of the team hit the field in 1947. The venerable Hilltops have won the last six straight CJFL titles and nine of the last 10 CJFL championships.

Dale, who stands 5-foot-6, has been practicing with the Hilltops for the last five weeks, and she has lost count of how many interviews she has done since news broke that she was officially on the club’s roster. The graduate of Saskatoon’s St. Joseph High School has done interviews with various media outlets including newspapers, radio stations, television stations, webcasts and podcasts.

At first, she didn’t know what it was going to be like to be interviewed by media members from major cities.

“It is definitely a little nerve-racking,” said Dale. “You get kind of a feel for what the questions are going to look like and feel like just from all of the interviews.

“You still don’t really know what they are going to ask. I think the biggest thing for me is just trying to stay articulate and take my time in answering questions. You just don’t know what they are going to ask.

“Just trying to think of things on the spot can be a little bit scary, but I don’t get too nervous talking to people.”

Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said Dale is on the Hilltops, because she is good enough to be on the team. Sargeant added Dale is powerful, strong and quick, and you can tell she has done a lot of good work at her training sessions at Ignite Athletics, which is on the grounds of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

Dale also works shifts operating the front desk at Ignite, where most of the Hilltops also train and workout. She already knew a number of players on the team, and Sargeant she fit in right off the bat.

“She is very comfortable out here right now, and very relaxed,” said Sargeant. “There is always a smile on her face.

Emmarae Dale (#45) made big plays for the Valkyries.
“She is enjoying what she is doing. You can tell she is learning and feeling good, because we are teaching some systems and getting a feel for all that. There is some newness to what is going on, and we are all enjoying it.

“She is a great kid to be around, and she is embracing the situation she is in as we are. Now, it is our job to make her better, so that she can compete at a high level and make a lot of plays for the Hilltops.”

Hilltops defensive coordinator Jeff Yausie was Dale’s head coach during her first season and her defensive coordinator in second season with the Valkyries. He saw Dale playing flag football during her high school days at St. Joseph High School and was impressed with her athletic and playmaking abilities.

Yausie, who spent time as the head coach of Canada’s national women’s tackle football team, talked Dale into joining the Valkyries and was amazed by how quickly she improved in the game.

“You basically watch her mature and grow up each year and get bigger and stronger and get more comfortable in the football systems,” said Yausie. “To me, she has gotten better and better.

“From my experience coaching the national team, I looked at her and I identified her as a player that she can make that level, if that is what she wants and be dominate at that level. She has a great work ethic, and she is tough.

“Sometimes the intangibles of football make a good football player like toughness, mental toughness. At every practice, she works as hard or harder than everybody else.”

As Dale improved, she hit the point Yausie believed she could play and contribute with the Hilltops. He figured the announcement of her being added to the roster would perk up media interest, but he never expected how wide the interest would spread.

“I’m surprised the amount of attention it has got,” said Yausie. “To me, I don’t think it is that big a deal.

“For me as a person, I just want a player who can play. I don’t care if the player is male or female or whatever. It comes back to her character.”

Emmarae Dale is honoured to play for the Hilltops.
Yausie said Dale’s character is outstanding, and the Hilltops know her family fairly well.

Dale is following in the footsteps of her older brothers, Anthony and Donovan, who played for the Hilltops in the late 2000s and early 2010s. As the weeks go on, Emmarae said it feels more and more special to be a member of the Hilltops.

“It is pretty surreal, and it is a huge honour,” said Dale. “I honestly have no other way to put it other than it is just really humbling being on the team that is the best in Canada and the best in history.

“It is just a huge honour to be able to come out and run around with the guys and compete with them. They are amazing football players, and just to be able to be here is a huge privilege and honour that is not being taken for granted at all.”