University of Pittsburgh

commons room

Playing the Field

Written by Elaine Vitone

A hundred women sip drinks and sample the buffet while Panther game clips play overhead on a giant screen in Pitt’s Duratz Athletic Complex on the South Side. Tonight, the complex has been transformed into home turf for female football fans. Pitt alum Rodie Fruzynski (EDUC ’69), a pixie-cut, blonde baby boomer, is in hog heaven with her 20-something daughter, Krystyna Fruzynski.

“Krystyna and I have always gone to Pitt games and tailgate parties with my husband and son—ever since she was little,” Fruzynski says. “She knows so much about sports.”

Her daughter laughs and chimes in: “Yeah, sometimes it intimidates guys.” The duo is enjoying Pitt’s third-annual Football University for Women, indulging in some Panther fun with other gals.

Soon, Jan Wannstedt, the evening’s host, walks to the front of the room to kick off—so to speak—the program. She is the wife of the Panthers’ head coach, Dave Wannstedt (EDUC ’74, ’76G).

“How many of you have ever wanted to play football?” she asks, and a bunch of hands shoot up. No wonder so many women haven’t quite “tackled” it, Wannstedt explains. “Football is the one sport we never really get to play.”

In recent years, college and NFL teams have worked harder to cater to their female fan bases, from selling pink jerseys to hosting female training camps. Wannstedt caught on to the national trend early: She has been organizing events similar to tonight’s football clinic/girls’ night out since 1989, when her husband was the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.

Now, she launches into a lay-woman’s Football 101 session, explaining everything from what goes on inside a huddle (“They’re saying, ‘I like your shoes!’” she jokes) to what an audible is. “An audible is the football version of a woman’s prerogative,” she says of the term for a quarterback changing plays just before the ball is snapped. Pitt’s coaching staff and an NCAA referee also explain rules and surprises of the game.

Afterward, the women tour the facility, peppering trainers and players with questions along the way. In the locker room, Fruzynski tries on a football helmet, and her daughter poses for a photo with Panther middle linebacker Scott McKillop.

“I’m a fifth-year senior,” says McKillop, who already has earned a Pitt bachelor’s degree in business and is pursuing another bachelor’s degree in administration of justice. “I was red-shirted one year. Does anyone know what that means?”

Krystyna does—it’s when a student athlete continues practicing with the team but benches at games for a year (students are eligible for the lineup for four years, max).

Then the women hit the indoor practice field, where McKillop and other players coach them through plays. Krystyna kicks off her heels and sprints across the home turf of her favorite NCAA team. It’s a rare moment for a fan, regardless of gender. In the football world of X’s and O’s, the XX’s are the victors tonight.