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Intellect

Texas football culture spreads to BYU faculty

This women’s flag football team is full of Ph.D.s

A decade ago, a grad student at the University of Texas told her roommate that she dreamed of teaching at BYU and starting an all-women’s faculty flag football team.

Sarah Olson Brinton was recruiting before she even got the BYU job.

Her roommate, Elizabeth Jeffery Kraczek, would go on to become this dream team’s starting quarterback ­— after finishing a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

“This is easily the best thing that happened to me while at BYU and I’m so happy that I’ve been a part of it,” said Kraczek, who taught at BYU from 2014 ­– 2017.

That happiness comes purely from being part of an academically accomplished sisterhood — not from winning games. These professor-athletes compete against student teams full of younger, more athletic players who also have more football experience.

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“In the 20 years between their average age and our average age, you lose a lot of speed and agility,” said Jessica Preece, a political scientist and running back. “And on top of that, let’s be honest, most of us were pretty nerdy and so we were never top athletes to begin with for the most part.”

Preece came up with a team name to help them lick their wounds and take comfort in a more lasting victory — faculty parking.

“We named ourselves ‘A Lot’ to remind us that at the end of the day, we still have great parking and we can take this loss,” Preece said.

Since the team’s inception in 2011, A Lot has become a distinct part of the storied BYU intramurals culture. Husbands and boyfriends cheer first downs as if they were touchdowns. Children run down the sideline parallel with mom. Pregnant players turn opponents’ heads during warm-ups.

“We’ve had a couple of teammates play while pregnant and they always get their doctors approval and make sure that it’s going to be safe, but it is pretty epic to see them and their baby barreling down the field all in one,” Preece said.

Three faculty members talk on the sideline during their flag football game

A few dozen professors from a variety of fields have rotated through the roster. The on-field camaraderie translates to off-field research collaborations.

“I remember going to Kneaders after a game and talking with a couple teammates about my research with Indian tribes,” said law professor Michalyn Steele. “That lent itself to a discussion of a paper that we ended up writing and publishing together.”

Steele co-authored that paper, which aims to reduce the suicide rate of at-risk populations through statistical analyses of policy changes, with health sciences professor Chantel Sloan and the counseling center’s Jennie Bingham, who both play offensive line.

Others to team up off the field include Preece and Olga Stoddard, a speedy defensive end and economics professor. Together they have published multiple studies on the most effective methods for recruiting women to run for public office.

Chemistry professors Kara Stowers (wide receiver) and Rebecca Sansom (offensive line) run a summer science camp for kids. They are preparing a grant proposal for the National Science Foundation with physicist and wide receiver Denise Stephens to increase retention of women majoring in the sciences.

“That collaboration and that friendship may not have happened if not through A Lot,” Stephens said.

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A Lot players say they can’t really separate their academic life from their athletic life, and that’s often a good thing. One night history professor Leslie Hadfield scored a touchdown after a lateral pass on a punt return. The retelling of the highlight by a student helped everybody relax before a quiz.

“The next day, I walked into class and the student said, ‘Dr. Hadfield, that was a nice punt return last night,’” Hadfield said. “I realized ‘Oh…it was you [watching from the sidelines].’”

Kristina Hansen is a psychologist in the counseling center by day and a defensive back for A Lot by night. She enjoys letting loose on the field after staying calm during a day’s worth of counseling with students.

“I yell, I’m far more gregarious, I’m willing to take someone down if they’re in my way – if they need to not be in my way anymore,” Hansen said. “I love being able to access that side of myself.”

Opposing student teams get to see a different side of the faculty during games. A Lot players argue with student refs. They suffer broken bones. They simultaneously beg for mercy and fight for every yard. It’s all part of being real-world role models.

“We think it’s really important for our female students to see a little bit more of our lives and see us as more well-rounded people and give them an idea of what their life can look like as they move forward,” Preece said. “And not all of them are going to make the same choices we have, but we think it’s important for them to see these options and see the variety of things that adult women can do with their lives.”

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