South Dakota gets first pro women’s football team


Ryan Warne, Sports Reporter (He/Him)

A group that includes a South Dakota State University alumnus is looking to bring the first professional women’s tackle football team to Brookings – and South Dakota, for that matter.

The South Dakota Pheasants will be part of the Women’s Tackle Football League and hopes to kick off in April. Owned by Terry McGriff, the WTFL is not only in South Dakota: McGriff is also the CEO for the North Florida Pumas in Jacksonville, Florida.

The Pheasants will be joining a number of already established teams, including Minnesota, Kansas City, New Orleans, Detroit and more.

Tryouts and team practices have already begun as the team aims to fill the roster. The first tryouts were Oct. 11 at Pioneer Park in Brookings.

Brian Finch, the director of operations and an SDSU graduate, and executive director Cheyenne Ackman are among the group of people looking to start the team.

Question (Q): How did this league come about?

Cheyenne Ackman (CA): “(McGriff) and I were in the same league a couple of years ago. I played for the WNFC [Women’s National Football Conference], and then we left that and he started his own league … We wanted a league that would allow the girls to be able to be themselves and have fun with it.”

Q: What do you two both do for the team?

CA: “I kind of oversee Brian, the coaches and Jackie (Salzman), who is our general manager. I’m also trying out for the team, so I actually lose all my managerial duties. So, they’ll be in charge.”

Brian Finch (BF): “I am the director of operations. I’m the right-hand man. So, when (Cheyenne) is on the field playing and at practice, I’m the one that’s helping her coordinate. I’m behind the scenes. I do a lot with the sponsors. Then, on game day, I will be the voice of the Pheasants, I’ll be the (radio) announcer.”

Q: Where will that be broadcast?

BF: “We’re not sure yet which station will pick it up, but we know Brookings Radio will be doing a Coach’s Corner on Monday mornings for sure.”

Q: Will the team be based out of Brookings?

CA: “It will be in Brookings. We are actually moving (to Brookings). We always wanted to bring it to Brookings because Sioux Falls has everything.”

BF: “Why should Sioux Falls get everything? (laughs)”

Q: Will the players and staff get paid?

CA: “When I played in the WNFC, the players and coaches were paid, but with this being our first season, we’re working on getting enough sponsorships to be able to do that. But it’s not a for-sure thing. Down the road that’s the plan.”

BF: “They’re not going to get, like, Aaron Rodgers’ salary or anything like that. We wish they could!”

Q: Where will the games be held?

CA: “A lot of (other teams in the league) play at the major local high school. We are actually working on either doing it at Mickelson Middle School or at the (Dana J.) Dykhouse (Stadium at SDSU).”

BF: There’s a couple teams that actually play in the smaller college stadiums.

Q: Who all can try out? Is there an age limit?

CA: “Any woman that wants to. There is no age limit. The minimum is that we have to get parental consent for the 15 year olds and 16 year olds … We have a 15 year old over there (on the field) right now who’s going to be trying out.”

BF: “Yes, and this comes down from Terry McGriff. Our mission is to empower women and raise the bar for women’s sports. It’s our job to mold them into future full-time players. There’ll be a scholarship involved from the girls who want to go on to SDSU for rugby or even intramural sports … There’s a small scholarship with the league to empower women to go to school and hopefully someday we’ll have SDSU Jackrabbit men’s football, and SDSU Jackrabbit women’s football.”

Q: When will the first game be?

CA: “So, our schedule … actually worked out really well with the whole COVID-19 situation. SDSU isn’t playing this fall, they’re playing in the spring. Their last game is April 17. And our first home game is April 10.”

BF: “The last thing we want to do is compete with SDSU. Cheyenne was actually contacted by SDSU’s rugby coach.”

CA: “Yeah, the main thing was if we were going to have the college girls play, that it didn’t affect their scholarships. That was the main thing we were worried about. The head coach said that it wouldn’t affect their scholarships if they were able to play.”

BF: “And he’s not worried about injuries either because they know how to take care of themselves.”