A Solid Game Plan
Baylie Kennedy is making a name for herself on the football field and in the healthcare sector. Find out how this world-class athlete climbed to the top —and balances it all in the process
By Rachel Debling
OVER THE LAST 100 YEARS, women’s rights and equality have multiplied several times over. But there are still areas in which parity has not yet been achieved. The skilled trades come to mind, as do many popular sports, especially rough-and-tumble, full-contact football.
Still, some have managed to make a name in this largely male-dominated field (pun intended). Former Local 301 member Baylie Kennedy has followed her football dream all the way to the top of Canada’s rankings, landing a position on the national women’s team and competing for honours at the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women’s World Championships, held in Finland during the summer of 2022.
Behind the uniform, Baylie has an equally tough job to do. Though she is now enrolled at Red Deer Polytechnic studying to become a healthcare aide, her interest in working in long term care was sparked when she landed a job as a housekeeper—“Someone who does odd jobs,” she says—at Sylvan Lake Lodge in Alberta, which provides subsidized housing for senior citizens, not far from where she grew up.
“I was working at a cafe before, and I ended up getting laid off, and I needed the job,” she says. “It was kind of what became available to me.”
Leaving her employer to go to school was difficult as she had built strong relationships with her coworkers. But Baylie is hopeful that she will eventually end up working there again once she graduates from her program.
WHEN SHE’S NOT STUDYING UP on the latest healthcare practices, you can find Baylie on the field, where she feels most at ease playing any of the defensive positions. Always a successful athlete, the transition to football felt natural to her.
“I’ve won quite a few medals and first-place ribbons,” she says of her elementary and high school athletic career. “I played a lot of sports— from volleyball to soccer to gymnastics to dance.”
But what got her into football was something— or more accurately, someone—very close to her.
“My brother started to play, so I wanted to play,” she laughs. “I was super young at the time, so my parents were like, ‘No, you’re not playing.’ But I really wanted to try it out.”
And when Baylie wants to try something, she doesn’t just test the waters—she dives in headfirst.
“I didn’t start by playing touch football,” she says. “I jumped right into full-on-tackle, American football.
“I had begged my parents for quite a few years to start playing. But they were against it because I was younger, and it’s a male-dominated sport. They thought I was going to get hurt because I’m female.”
Eventually, they gave in, and Baylie has been playing ever since.
“They are fully invested now—total football parents,” she says.
WHEN BAYLIE FIRST STARTED PLAYING, there weren’t any leagues for girls. There wasn’t even a program at her high school for female football players. So, she did what any other self-proclaimed tomboy would do: she joined the guy’s team.
“When I played bantam, it was just the boys,” she says. “And once I was done my two years in that league, I went up to the high school level for three years. I played with all the high school guys.”
Though she wasn’t the first girl to play for her high school’s football team, Baylie was happy to help push for change in her own small way.
“Ever since I started playing, I now see so many girls on guys’ teams,” she says. “Before you didn’t see that.”
While in grade 10, Baylie was tapped by a university recruiter who turned out to be the head coach for the Edmonton Storm, a Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) team. It was a challenge that would help shape the type of player she would become.
“When I was playing in high school with the boys, I was also playing back-to-back seasons with the women’s team at the same time,” says Baylie.
Though happy to have found kindred spirits in her WWCFL teammates, Baylie found herself by far the youngest player on the team—and potentially the youngest in the league. Only a teenager, she was playing against people in their mid-20s, and even some into their 40s. One season, Baylie recalls, she faced off against a woman in her 60s!
“At the time, there wasn’t really an age limit,” she says. “So, I started playing in the WWCFL at 15 or 16. Now, the age limit is 18 because they have younger girls’ teams. But they didn’t have that when I was playing.”
DESPITE THE AGE GAP, BAYLIE quickly excelled, earning the Rookie of the Year award in her first season. Most recently, she landed the league’s Defensive Player Award in 2022. The accolades continued, and soon she was on the radar of the IFAF.
“One of the coaches for team Canada was actually my old head coach for the Storm,” says Baylie.
After he encouraged her to try out in Ottawa against 130 other players, she found herself in the top 70. From there, the women were split into two teams that played against each other. The result of that match helped the coaches whittle the players down to the final 40—of which Baylie was fortunately one.
“We didn’t get together at all after the tryouts or anything, or even leading up to the championships,” she says. “They were held in Finland over three weeks, and the first two weeks were pretty much all practicing and getting to know your plays and stuff. Then the last week was when all the games were held. It was a tight timeline.”
Sadly, the Canadian team did not make the podium in 2022.
“We played against Australia, Finland, and Great Britain,” says Baylie. “And they were all really good teams. I mean, that’s why they were there. Everybody’s an athlete.”
But it was an experience that Baylie will forever remember, as will her family. Her mom, dad, and grandparents all trekked to Finland to watch her make them proud.
IN BOTH HER WORK LIFE and athletic career, Baylie continues to receive support from her family, including her two older brothers: the one who first inspired her and the other who, after trying football, found that the sport “just wasn’t for him.” And while she is thankful of her role in the WWCFL, she recognizes that she is a long way from having football pay the bills.
“I’m honestly just in it for the love of the game,” says Baylie. “We don’t get paid anything for it, un-fortunately, or at least not yet. Maybe in a few years people will start to get paid to play, but I just don’t think it’s big enough, and the leagues sometimes have a hard time even affording to run.”
Some of the larger franchises, such as the Saskatchewan Valkyries, have a devoted space to play. But for a smaller team like the Storm, they are at the mercy of whatever local fields are available. And because they have to rent the space, and ticket sales don’t cover the cost, Baylie and her teammates have to look elsewhere to fund their passion.
“We do fundraising for the Edmonton Elks football team and run some of their games, which we get paid for,” she says. “We also help out with the Edmonton Huskies Football Club. We rely on fundraising and volunteering to help afford our seasons.”
On the international stage, the next IFAF Women’s World Championship isn’t until 2026, so Baylie has plenty of time to prepare. Though there’s no guarantee that she’ll make it onto the roster again, judging by her performance at last year’s match, she’ll be a shoo-in.
To future generations of girls looking to get into the sport, as Baylie says, just give it a try.
“I always say, if it’s not for you, if you don’t like it, that’s fine,” she says. “But you never know where it’s going to take you. When I first started, if I was to think about where I was going to be at this time in my life, I wouldn’t think that I would have just played for the Canadian team.
“Definitely try it out. It’s worth it.”