So…an old friend conned me into playing beer league American football this autumn. He didn’t really have to try that hard, to be honest, but I’ve never played American football in my life. His pitch was “you played rugby, you like beer, and the league needs girls.” Right, okay…I’m in.
Anyway, I was telling The Swede about this at the weekend and tried to explain my hesitations with, “I’ve never even played Powderpuff!” which left him blinking rather confusedly, as Powderpuff is not a thing that exists in Sweden. So this morning, I thought I’d send him a link to try to explain better than my, “it’s a Harvest Week* thing where girls play touch!” (like I thought he’d understand what any of those words meant together as a sentence) and threw the Wiki article at him.
But here’s the thing: it turns out Powderpuff has a longer history than you’d expect.
Powderpuff has been around since 1945 when Eastern State Teachers College in South Dakota fielded a team. The story of how it came about is quite cute. Because of the war, most everything festive had been suspended, but in the wake of the Japanese surrender, and the announcement at ESTC that there would, once again, be a homecoming — even though there was no football team to field — a bunch of girls got together and decided to field a football game of their own. And so Powderpuff was born.
The first game was played between those who lived in the dorms on campus and those who were commuters from the local community of Madison. It was decided that Eastern State’s colours of blue and gold should be used for the teams.
It became known as “Powderpuff” because, during the game, the girls opted, instead of heading for whatever they head for at halftime in American football, to re-up their makeup with powder puffs and all. A local journalist called the the teams, “the Powder Puffs and the Rouge Elevens,” which named Powderpuff as we know it (or don’t if you’re Swedish).
The game was then lost for nearly 30 years until Mark T. Sheehan high school in Wallingford, Connecticut** played a game in 1972 that became a tradition that spread to high schools and universities throughout the US and Canada. This actually makes a whole lot of sense. I had always assumed that Powderpuff had been a bastard child of the Title IX ruling; it turns out that Title IX came into effect in June of 1972.
According to Wiki, the longest running Powderpuff rivalry in the US (and probably anywhere) is the Samaha Bowl*** — named for Sheehan’s then-athletic director, Judy Samaha — which is played on the Wednesday before American Thanksgiving every year between senior girls of Sheehan and Lyman Hall High Schools (also of Wallingford, CT). Unfortunately, I can’t find any information as to whether or not the game, which is played to this day, is still limited to seniors.****
As much as I hate to admit this, Wiki has the best information here. It’s a lot of citation, so I’m more okay with it. Notice the theme here in my acceptance of Wiki as a source, but there’s still a part of my soul that dies every time I link to a Wiki article. But overall, it kind of makes sense; niche things tend to have quite well-cited Wiki pages, but not much else outside of it. Because it’s niche.
*My high school didn’t have Homecoming (although I think that has changed in the 15 year since I graduated). When I was there, it was called Harvest. So we had Harvest Week and the Harvest Game and the Harvest Dance, and I actually kind of prefer it because it’s less generic.
**Oddly, this is the second time Wallingford has come up in my life in the past few weeks. I happen to have an old, old friend who went to prep school in Wallingford, but the earlier reference came from my brother.
***I so wanted to be able to find a proper source for this, but the best I can find are some YouTube videos of the event, so here you go! A clip from 2012. I will say that this game is way more organized, better played, better uniformed, better supported, and played by far more people than the Powderpuff game at my high school.
****Given the popularity of this game, I think it’s completely feasible to field a pair of teams of 45(ish) senior girls from a town of 45,000.