Taken from the Octoer 1996 Issue of Table Talk  Published by Tornado Table Soccer, Inc. 

The Women of Foosball

By Mary Grayson

Last summer Liz Hill asked me if I'd be interested in promoting the women in foosball by interviewing the top players for Table Talk. These interviews would give the women a chance to talk about the things they wanted from foosball as well as tell their story to help us see what was winning for women today. The professional women of the sport would finally start to get some of the recognition they deserved. We were able to isolate some of the realities Liz and the other pro girls were facing, and began to see how some of them were affecting the entire female player base. Table Talk has devoted an entire section to women for the past year.

Being our number one ranked player, I interviewed Liz first, right before the 1995 World Championships. Dominating the majority of the titles in '95, Liz was feeling little competition at the time and mentioned it in her interview. This, along with the spectacular showing of Cami Carter in the '95 World Championships sparked the lulling fire in legendary Cindy Head who made a much anticipated and exciting return to the tour. I interviewed Cindy at the beginning of the 1996 tour. She made an announcement to return and win her way straight to the '96 World Championship title, as well as presenting a direct challenge to Liz and her championship game. The domino effect accelerated and Tiffany Billirakis took notice, claiming she was as deserving as Liz or Cindy. I interviewed Tiffany before the 1996 National Championships where she revealed her pursuit for the number one ranking. The race to Worlds was on!

The 1996 Tour made for an exciting buildup to the climactic World Championships:

In Women's Singles, Liz Hill (OK) took the 1996 Hall of Fame Classic title for the fourth consecutive year. Liz dominated the tour stop and tripled that weekend, earning three championship titles. Christina Fuchs (CA) earned the 1996 U.S. Open title, establishing the fact that she had a championship forward game to match her already recognized goalie game. Cindy Head (AL) took home two of the five titles this year, winning both the 1996 Masters and the 1996 National Championships, where she doubled for the weekend. Liz and Cindy seemed to be heavy contenders for the World Championship title this year.

In Women's Doubles, Liz Hill and Stephanie Dean (OK) were the championship team at the Hall of Fame Classic. This was Stephanie Dean's first women's open title, perhaps alleviating some of the pressure to perform put on her due to her undeniable talent. Tiffany Billirakis (IL) and Caryn Varadinek (NY) took home the title at the U.S. Open, while April Mendel (New York) and Melanee Tosh (OK) brought home the Masters title. Cindy Head and Tracy Hill (TX) brought us yet a different championship team at the National Championships. Although no team dominated the season titles this year, like 1995, the team of Hill tic Fuchs were in 3 out of 5 championship finals.

In Open Mixed, Liz Hill & Tommy Adkisson (OK) took the title at the Hall of Fame Classic. Greg "Jeep" Perrie (CA) and Bobbi Papageorgiou (TX) won the U.S. Open championship, bringing rookie Bobbi her first Open tour title. Christina Fuchs earned another title across the year at the Masters Cup where she and Tom Yore (Florida) took first place in the event. Melanee Tosh brought her seasoned goalie game into the limelight with her win at the National Championships with forward Scotty Wydman (Colorado). Again, no team dominated the event.

Happily, it is worthy to mention the event of Open Doubles this year when we speak of the women players. Tracy Hill put in an unbelievable performance this year with partner Tom Spear, earning the Highest Placing Mixed Team at both the Hall of Fame Classic and the National Championships, where they took an incredible fourth place. Tiffany Billirakis earned the award at the U.S. Open with partner Jeff Dix while Liz Hill brought home the recognition at Masters with partner Chris Cavalier. Tracy was steadily earning her reputation as a strong goalie for both Women's and Open Doubles.

This past Labor Day holiday my city hosted the 1996 World Championships. I had interviewed four of the top women in foosball, three of them favorites for the 1996 World Championship titles. On my way to the airport I remember wondering what would happen by the end of the weekend. Would Cami Carter show up to defend her Women's Singles title? Would Cindy Head follow through on her announcement to win back the title? Would Liz Hill beat Cindy this time? Would Tiffany Billirakis steal the number one ranking from 20+ month holder Liz? Would Stephanie Dean earn her first World title? Where would Tracy Hill's team end up in Open Doubles this time? Would the women begin to feel the European presence as the men have begun to? Would there be any rematches? Any dark horses? The hunger was huge and evenly spread across the female player base, from rookie to semipro to pro. By the end of the weekend all of my questions were answered and my heart filled with joy and new passion for this sport we call foosball.

Tiffany Billirakis proved to be the Belle of the Ball starting her 1996 World Championship weekend off with a marriage ceremony to wed number one ranked male player Terry Moore. Tiffany Billirakis became Tiffany Moore and went on to double that weekend, winning both the Women's Singles and Doubles titles as well as earning Highest Placing Female in Open Singles AND Female Forward of the Year. (Romantically enough, Terry Moore won Male Forward and Player of the Year this year as well.)

In Women's Singles, Tiffany Moore came straight through the winner's bracket to meet up with Stephanie Dean in the finals where Tiffany won in a single match. After shaking Stephanie's hand, Tiffany ran screaming from the table as Link Pendley poured a victory bottle of champagne over her head. Dark horse Charlene Agnew (Oklahoma) took an outstanding third place in the event defeating both Cindy Head and Liz Hiil on her way through the loser's bracket. Charlene only recently returned to tour and her animated expressions of sheer joy at her victories will inspire me for a lifetime.

In Women's Doubles, Tiffany earned her second title for the weekend with partner Angela Sine (Florida). Although the match went to matchball, Tiffany and Angela secured their second consecutive World Championship by defeating Liz Hill and Christina Fuchs in a single match. The event was a rematch from last year's finals, with Hill & Fuchs coming from the loser's bracket this year. Hill & Fuchs met up with Cindy Head & Tracy Hill in an exciting and dramatic match, with Hill & Fuchs winning in the third game. This win was an exciting and anticipated win for both.

After taking second last year, Stephanie Dean earned her first World Championship title with Terry Moore in Open Mixed. With the exception of the Hall of Fame Classic, Moore & Dean had not been in the finals of the event all year. Moore & Dean met with Todd Loffredo (Colorado) and Tracy Hill in the finals, beating them at matchball. Belgian Champ Frederico Collignon, a semipro, and his girlfriend, Ingrid Hauben (Belgium), a rookie, had played Moore & Dean for the winner's bracket only to move to the loser's bracket and be defeated by Loffredo & Hill. Taking third, Ingrid Hauben is the first European woman to place in Open Mixed at a tour stop.

In Open Doubles, Stephanie Dean and Partner, Michael Archer (Texas), earned Highest Placing Mixed Team. In addition to their performance, you cannot mention the women in foosball and this event without giving special attention to the unprecedented performance of Moya Tielens (Canada) and Laurette Gunther (Washington). This determined team took 13th in the World in Open Doubles this year, defeating the number #3 seed in an exciting five game match. When playing Don Swan and Steve Beine (#3 seed) the girls not only put the top pros in the loser's bracket, but literally skunked them during the fifth game. In addition, the girls took the #6 seed team of Steve Mohs and John Smith to matchball before losing the match. This placement is the highest a women's team has placed in Open Doubles at a tour stop in the history of foosball. Yes, it is a fact that women rarely place at all in the open singles and doubles events. However, by being able to play in the open events in addition to the women's events, the women increase their chances to earn money, as well as continue to learn from the men. Just how large and reasonable that chance is, is completely dependent upon the attitude of the woman. Many believe the chance of truly earning any of the money back in open events is too low to be worth the cash to enter. Moya & Laurette obviously didn't hold that belief, and look at what they did! Perhaps the personal highs alone were worth their entry fee. Regardless of whether you believe their accomplishment can be repeated or not, (realize that they didn't just beat the #3 seed, they had to beat many male teams on their way to the #3 seed) the point is Moya and Laurette believe it can be repeated and you can bet they'll continue to play in Open Doubles, playing the same smart, confident game that took them to their exciting finish. Can they do it again? Why not? The effect this inspiration will have among the women? We'll see if the statistics of women's placement in open begin to change with time or not. Moya & Laurette are an inspiration to us all and we thank them for representing the women with such confidence and skills as well as raising the ceiling of hope in all of the women.

As mentioned earlier, Tiffany Moore earned Female Forward of the Year. with Moya Tielens as runner up. Surpassing both Hill and Head for this achievement in addition to her performance in Open Doubles, signals the fact that Moya's time has come. Christina Fuchs earned Female Goalie of the Year for her second consecutive year. Christina was in the finals of Women's doubles three times this year and the finals of Open Mixed twice, winning at the Master's. The Female Sportsmanship award went to Caryn Varadinek, a true example of professionalism and positivity. Although Stephanie Dean remains an obvious example of good sportsmanship, this was the first time in 2 years that she didn't win the award. This is also her first year to win an Open Women's title and a World Championship. Coincidence? Perhaps Stephanie has learned to close herself off a little more during competition and keep the southern hospitality for off of the table? Only Stephanie knowsthe answer to that question.

In addition to the outstanding performances of the pro women, we must give credit to the SemiPro and Rookie girls who also earned World Championships over the Labor Day Holiday. As mentioned earlier, SemiPro Angela Sine earned her second consecutive World title with Tiffany Moore in Women's Open Doubles. (Perhaps it is time to move this TWO time World champion into professional ranking?) In SemiPro mixed, Jaymi Heaton earned her first World's title with 11 year old Billy Pappas, an impressive up and coming player. Jaymi was able to share her joy with boyfriend Louis Cartwright who won Open Singles this year. Rookie Bobbi Papageorgiou took second with partner Ray Simmons, earning her 5th tour stop trophy for the year. Kelly Claroni and John Merkel took third in the event.

The Rookie Women's events are getting larger and more competitive with every tour stop. Maggie Dix (Indiana) doubled for the weekend winning Singles and Doubles with partner Dusty Bambenek, as well as taking fifth place in the Womens Open Singles event and second in Rookie Mixed. (Quite impressive considering this was only Maggie's third major tournament to play in.) Nancy Pappas took first Rookie Mixed with partner Chris Whittaker, the current Rookie National Champion, and took second in Rookie Women's Singles. Nancy is the mother of SemiPro Mixed World Champion Billy Pappas and this may very well be the first time a mother and son have both won World titles at the same tournament! As mentioned earlier, Rookie player Bobbi Papageorgiou took home five tour stop trophies, the most for any Rookie girl this year, while Deanna Byrd (Georgia), Tracy Brubaker (Colorado), and Maggie Dix (Indiana) each took home three. Special notice for the following girls who doubled at a tour stop this year, Denice Decker at the U.S. Open (playing doubles with Kay Dee), Kym Perez at the National Championships (playing doubles with Deanna Byrd), and Maggie Dix at Worlds (playing doubles with Dusty Bambenek). These seem to be some of the names to be looking out for ladies !

I'd like to raise the issue of sportsmanship and officials. Do you realize that foosball is the only professional sport that does not REQUIRE an official present during all finals matches? As the women's player base continues to grow, please consider the importance of knowing and abiding by the rules, as it only makes us all better players. As a rookie player I ask the pro women to consider taking the official tests so we may have the choice of a judge from our own peer group, rather than having to depend upon the men to officiate all of our matches. With regard to sportsmanship, I ask the rookie women to observe our professional players. You will not see them disrespect one another only to lose by underestimating their opponents. They have conquered that weakness by now and we can only strive to grow by practicing respect toward one another as we learn against one another. I'd like to encourage all women to root for their favorites and give the top women the crowds and cheers they deserve. In many of the exciting open male events you see where the crowd is often a huge factor of competition.

A special note to Link Pendley and his Oklahoma Foosball Program for women. He issues new incentives whenever possible and as a result, the state is home for quite possibly the largest number of top female players (Liz Hill, Melanee Tosh, Stephanie Dean, Kathy Richey, Diane Park and Charlene Agnew just to name a few). While many women complain how few women play in their state, the female player base in Oklahoma is so large that they successfully have a Mixed Tournament once a week!

What will 1997 bring us? Will Cindy heal her broken wrist (not that it slowed her down much) and come out with the eye of that tiger she talks about next year? Will Moya Tielens joyful pregnancy slow her pace any? Who'll be playing forward this year for Hill & Fuchs? Will Stephanie Dean earn her first women's singles title now that she's broken the ice and taken home a trophy in three of the five tour stops this year? Will Tracy Hill be the first woman to take a first place Open Doubles trophy? Will Gena Murray return to the tour after seeing the exciting growth among the women this year at Worlds like Cindy Head did in 1996? Will Tiffany Moore be the next Cindy Head? Will we see any more European girls placing this year? The only way to find our is to show up at the tour stops. I'll be there to find out ... will you?