Being happy has never been so hard.
For Alex McAtee, a 19-year-old state champion with a 3.8 GPA in high school, that means putting off college to work at a Goodwill and to live with another person in a one-bedroom apartment. The reason: McAtee wants to play football—for no pay.
McAtee, who just might be the world's biggest Pittsburgh Steelers fan—she has the tattoo to prove it—moved from West Virginia to in August, last year, to be closer to the Pittsburgh Passion, the women's football team that plays in Pittsburgh's George K. Cupples Stadium (about a 20-minute drive from McAtee's apartment).
There's a problem, though: McAtee doesn't have a car, and her roommate's recently caught fire out of the blue. To make matters worse, the Passion don't always practice at nearby Cupples Stadium. During the winter at least, McAtee often takes two buses to get to the team's indoor practice facility in Monroeville, PA—The Club Sport & Health—about a 35-minute drive from her apartment.
The 35-minute trek is actually an improvement for McAtee over her old travel itinerary, which consisted of a more-than-two-hour drive from her hometown of Clarksburg, WV, to Passion practices. McAtee made that trip several times during her first year with the Passion when she had a car. In addition to the distance, making that trip became even more complicated when she rolled her vehicle several times on a highway in August 2010.
McAtee said that she has never been the same since that accident, which totaled her car and caused life-changing injuries, including knocking her spine out of place in at least three spots and a bout with amnesia. She said that she still feels the effects of the crash.
"I'm lucky to be here," she said.
McAtee had just earned a spot on the Passion's 2011 roster through open tryouts when she had her accident. She tried to practice with the team once it opened camp that next January, but injuries from the crash ultimately forced her to miss that season. Now a year later, she has rehabilitated her injuries, made the team again and hopes to finally play football in 2012. The season starts on April 14 when the Passion visit the D.C. Divas.
So why all of the trouble just to play football? It can't be for the money, as Passion players aren't paid to play.
McAtee said that, essentially, she's a born jock, like most of the Passion's players, and that she only feels like herself when she's competing.
McAtee helped to lead South Harrison High School (WV) to the only state title in its history as an all-state shortstop for the Hawks softball team in 2010. She also played soccer and basketball at South Harrison High, but perhaps her biggest claim to fame in high school sports came when she saw time at quarterback for the school's varsity football team as a fresh(wo)man. Playing against boys, McAtee became the first female in state history to play quarterback during a varsity high school game.
McAtee said that she eventually gave up football during fall seasons in exchange for playing soccer when she could no longer see over her offensive line. She's 4 feet, 11 inches tall.
She also played some defensive back in high school, a position that she expects that she'll see time at with the Passion.
"Alex is an outstanding athlete," said Teresa Conn, an original Passion player and now a co-owner of the team along with Pro Football Hall of Famer Franco Harris. "Although she is small, she is fearless and very fast. This makes her a tremendous asset anywhere on the field."
McAtee is not sure where she'll go after trying her hand at football again—perhaps to the Air Force in order to get some help paying for college. She doesn't want to work in the warehouse at the Goodwill in Pittsburgh's Banksville neighborhood forever, but she said that she's willing to do what it takes to play the sport that she loves the most.
"Alex, along with a handful of other players, our quarterback and myself included in that list, moved to Pittsburgh just because they wanted to play football," Conn said. "Once you are part of a true team, a feeling of working with others to accomplish a great goal and giving of your time, energy and talents to meet that goal—shoulder-to-shoulder with others doing the same—it becomes about so much more than football.
"It becomes about doing the same in life."
"I really can't wait (to play)," McAtee said. "I can't wait to get that adrenaline rush back.
" ... I'll do (college) when I'm ready."