As CFL training camps build first week momentum, the energy of veteran players renewing old friendships will mix with the buzz of new faces trying to impress. As usual.
Laurence Pontbriand takes a particular interest in nine of those new faces to camps, one with each CFL team.
Pontbriand, the CFL’s Manager of football and officiating development, also performs a number of other roles with the league and as co-chair of the IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility) committee, one of them is to help organize and oversee the CFL’s Women In Football Program, presented by KPMG.
For the second straight season, nine women from all over Canada, coming from places like Okotoks, Alta., Kitchener, Ont. and Gatineau, QC, to name three, are taking part in CFL training camps, getting their football dreams boosted by a program that aims to grease the wheels of advancement.
» Nine participants join Women In Football program presented by KPMG
» Everything you need to know ahead of training camp
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» Season Previews: Get up to date on all nine teams
The application process was a straightforward, streamlined undertaking. The CFL provided an online link where anyone could upload their resume as well as a short video where they could talk about themselves and what they’d like to achieve in a career in football.
Pontbriand and her colleagues in the CFL operations office spent hours poring over the applications, whittling the number of applicants down to around 50 for the next step, handing off to each CFL team choose a participant to join them at training camp.
“From there, the clubs would look at that list and select whoever they wanted to interview,” said Pontbriand.
Each of the teams decided which applicant best suited what it needed and also what the team had to offer by way of a training camp internship in areas such as coaching, football operations and equipment management.
This year, 10 participants actually wound up being chosen instead of nine.
That’s because Halifax’s Erin Craig, who’d been scheduled to join the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at camp, was instead hired by the Edmonton Elks as the team’s strength and conditioning coach. That opened the door for Toronto’s Melissa Grieco to head for Winnipeg for a coaching internship.
“That’s great news,” said Pontbriand of Craig’s new role with the Elks. “She doesn’t even have to go through the program to get a job. So that’s fantastic.”
It’s also a rarity and that is why the program exists. If this season’s cohort is as successful as last year’s, then more women will be hired on the heels of their training camp experiences.
In 2022, Elisha Torraville participated in the first Women In Football initiative and following Edmonton’s training camp, she was hired as the team’s manager of football operations. Just prior to this year’s camp, Torraville had her job title changed from manager to director. In January, Paige Ottaviano, another participant in the 2022 Women in Football class, was hired by the Hamilton Sports Group for the role of manager, Grey Cup Festival and events.
“Obviously we want to see that being repeated and having more women hired after the fact,” said Pontbriand.
“It was very good last year,” added Pontbriand of the success of the inaugural Women In Football program, before pointing to an area where she hoped it could be even more successful in 2023.
“In terms of training camp, I think what I’d like to see a little more is allowing the participants to be a little bit more involved,” she said. “Some clubs do it really well. Some others kind of take the approach, ‘Hey, you’re here to learn, so just be like a fly on the wall and take take it all in’ without actually having them doing any coaching role or football operations role.
“So that would be, for me, what I’d like to see a little bit more of this year.”
And more hirings, naturally. That’s what the Women In Football Program is about, after all.