Blaze takes women’s football championship

Denver team wins 21-20 over team from Kentucky

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For all those people counting the national championships won by Denver area teams in the past few months, a spot needed to be saved for another.

The Mile High Blaze captured the Women’s Football Alliance’s Division 2 national women’s tackle football title with a 21-20 win over the Derby City Dynamite from Louisville, Kentucky, in the July 9 championship game in Canton, Ohio.

The Blaze joins the University of Denver’s NCAA national hockey champions, Denver East’s high school national title hockey team and the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup champs.

Kimberly Santistevan, a 38-year-old who is a preschool teacher in Douglas County and a freshman football coach at Douglas County High School, is the quarterback for the Blaze.

Rob Sandlin, a Parker resident, is the Blaze coach.

The WFA is a women’s football league which competes with three other leagues in the United States to attract female players. The WFA has three divisions, with Division 1 considered the pro division.

Blaze players pay $400 to join the team and the players must purchase their own equipment and pay for travel.

“We have players from 17 to 53 years old,” Sandlin said. “And from all walks of life is kind of an understatement for us. Two of our young ladies are still in high school, we have an MMA fighter, nurses, accountants, teachers, parole officers, a barista, active military and you name it, The funny thing is they all kind of put everything else away and show up for practice.”

With the win in the Division 2 title game, the Blaze will move up to Division 1 next season.

“It was a really important game especially for some of the vets that have been here for a while,” said Santistevan. “We’re still a young with our veterans and the championship will help grow the sport.”

Sandlin has seen the growth of his team this season.

“Talent wise we are about the same as we have been the past few years,” he said. “The difference for us is we have not had as many extracurricular problems. In the past just like any other family, we’ve had fights and arguments.

“This year it’s been really close knit and the other thing about this team is we’ve never been able to get through a season with any type of close games. We have usually been playing blowouts. This year, we’ve actually been able to play in games where we have had to come back in the fourth quarter. That molded the team to kinda realize we can do this no matter what. We found different ways to win. We’ve had a chance to win any way we could.”

Sandlin, a mortgage originator for Plum Creek Funding in Parker, has been running youth organizations for years and has coached the Blaze, which formerly was the Mile High Cowgirls, for the past four seasons. And, the Blaze has played in the conference title game four times before winning the national title.

“It’s so much better coaching the women than the men,” he admitted. “There are no prima donnas. They don’t think they know everything. Most of them just want to learn how to play. It gives us the ability to teach so from a coach’s perspective it’s a lot more fun that way.”

Santistevan started playing tackle football eight or nine year ago depending on if you count the season curtailed by COVID.

She was first a wide receiver, played safety and then moved to quarterback.

“It’s fun being a quarterback,” she said. “It gives you a different level of respect for all the girls in different positions. The game really slows down once you are back there and you kind of see things differently.

“I do a little of everything as a quarterback. We’re mostly a run-heavy team but I have a pretty good arm. When coach calls for a deep route or a short route I can definitely make the passes. I’m a pretty mobile quarterback for my age and I can still get the ball down field fairly well.”

Santistevan said the freshman players at Douglas County know she plays football.

“The newer group this year I don’t think realized that I was a player so our head freshman coach made the introductions and let them know,” added Sanstistevan. “He said, `hey you are not going to see coach for a couple days because she’s going to go play for a national championship.’”

“The guys from last year that I was coaching definitely knew I was a player. They would ask how the season was going, when the next game was and things like that. Most of them were not driving yet and couldn’t come out to Aurora Public Schools Stadium (where the Blaze play home games) to watch games but they knew I played.”

Santistevan is having loads of fun, especially after the team won the national title.

“I’m having so much fun,” she said. “If you would have asked me as few years ago if I would be playing and coaching I would have thought you were crazy, but being in the situation I’m in now I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I absolutely love anything related to football.”

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