Meet the female Brigham Young University professors who cross academic boundaries and tackle women’s issues — by playing football

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Team A Lot's Leslie Hadfield runs the ball during the flag football team game against Sim Team at North University Fields in Provo Thursday, November 30, 2017.

Provo • The group of professors huddled around a table in the basement of the Harold B. Lee Library on Brigham Young University’s campus could be discussing 16th century English literature, or liberation movements in South Africa.

Instead, they’re discussing football. And as associate English literature professor Brandie Siegfried walks into the room and holds up several neon colored sheets of paper, the group bursts into laughter.

This is the playbook for their intramural flag football team: 18 BYU employees, all women, who teach a wide range of subjects while competing against students on the gridiron every fall.

In the beginning of the team’s history in 2011, roster turnover was high and football expertise low, according to associate statistics professor Candace Berrett.

But especially in the past two years, players on the “A Lot” team — named for the campus’ prime faculty-only parking lots — have formed bonds that translate into mentorships, cross-department projects and a united front for addressing women’s issues on campus.

“Football is sort of fun, I like playing football,” said Rebecca Sansom, a chemistry teaching professor who plays center. “But really this has been for me a lifesaver in terms of my social support at the university.”

After she moved to BYU from another university, joining A Lot — which competes in five 7-on-7 games per season, plus playoff contests — eased her adjustment. Now, it helps her navigate experiences with colleagues and students in a male-dominated field of study.

Denise Stephens, the team’s shutdown cornerback and an associate physics professor, said A Lot has also become an example to students. They’re role models for working together across different fields of study, defying gender stereotypes, and showing that many different paths lead to fulfillment.

“You can be a professor, you can play football, you can be a mom,” Stephens said. “These choices are all open to you.”

For law school professor Kif Augustine-Adams, the team provides an example for students “that their physical activity, their spiritual lives, their athletic lives, their scholarly and professional endeavors, can all be integrated.”

She and her teammates readily admit that their younger opponents have the edge in speed, but the continuity of developing chemistry and game plans over seven seasons is its own advantage.

“Where we lack athletic ability, we make up for it a little bit with our brains,” Sansom said.

“I think for the most part, we like giving the students an opportunity to beat us, but we also really like beating them,” Berrett said with a laugh.

Berrett credits the team for being a much-needed avenue for cutting through the usual department-centric academic boundaries. She and Augustine-Adams recently collaborated on a project.

“It’s been nice to be able to get close to women across BYU,” she said. “It’s hard to meet professors from other departments outside of this football team.”

The unusual forum for networking has earned the A Lot team recognition nationally — and made them something of a legend on campus.

“There’s something about it being football that makes it more special because that is a male sport, usually,” BYU history professor and running back Leslie Hadfield said. “It brings all of these elements together.”

In late November, junior political science major Liz McIntire captained A Lot’s opponent in their second playoff game. She told “everybody” that they were playing their professors when the pairing was announced.

She said she’s inspired to see the women of A Lot balance academics and fun.

“As a woman, you’re always wondering is it going to be a career or a family? Then, you have these women who do both, like superheroes,” McIntire said. “It’s really cool.”

Temperatures in Provo dipped into the mid-30s that night. Sansom designated assignments for her teammates as they warmed up in the cold — knowing that a win would allow them to play for another week in their tournament region title game, and a loss would end their season.

The student team struck fast and pulled away from the professors with a combination of running to the sideline and speed, ending A Lot’s season.

Beaten on the field but never in spirit, the professors clapped and lined up to slap hands with students, whom they’d soon be lecturing or administering final exams to as the semester drew to a close.

After the congratulations, the women of A Lot huddled together, put their hands together and counted to three before chanting as they do at the end of every game: “Good parking always wins!”