The first women’s professional soccer team in NYS is commemorated

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo loves sports, especially football, but it’s not just the Buffalo Bills who have left their mark on the area.

Another football team, the Buffalo All-Stars, changed the game.

“It was an opportunity to do something that I would love,” Sherrill Cooper said.

She is no stranger to the tension of the schedule.

“They came from all walks of life,” she said.

Cooper was one of about 25 women who formed the Buffalo All-Stars, New York’s first women’s professional soccer team, one of four founded by Sid Friedman. A teammate of hers, Dee Dee DeBone, helped coordinate the team.

Cooper was a halfback.

“He founded Buffalo in 1970, creating a four-team league,” explains sports historian Greg Tranter.

The Women’s Professional Football League came at the perfect time.

“Soccer grew in popularity and by 1972, football became the most popular sport in the United States, naturally surpassing baseball in 1970,” Tranter said.

For Cooper, it was all about the love of the game.

“I don’t think I ever thought about it like, ‘Wow.’ This is amazing that women can play football,” she recalls. “It was more, ‘Wow, just the idea of ​​being able to do it.’”

She comes from a sports family, including a father who played for the Buffalo Bisons hockey team, and hid this from them for a while, even after breaking her leg during practice.

“I am in a complete cast and on crutches,” she said. “My brother was sitting at the table, looked at the Courier Express on the sports page and said, ‘Dad, there’s an article … And this looks like… Wow, this looks like Sherrill,’” Cooper recalled.

It was an alias given to the newspaper that would conceal her identity for the time being.

“I said, ‘Wow. He looks like me. What’s her name? Leslie Lynn,'” Cooper said. “So my family didn’t know I was playing for weeks.”

While that limited her playing time, it did not limit her experience.

“What that competition was and what it meant to women at the time has more meaning today than it did years ago,” she said.

They lost their first game 40-0, but when it came time to play on their home field at All-High Stadium on December 5, 1970, they emerged victorious.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” Cooper said.

That match is now immortalized on a plaque in the stadium.

“If that would influence some young girls to inspire them to take up sports or play football, that would be great,” Tranter said.

Although their team only existed for four years, it paved the way for the current Women’s Football Alliance.

“I think it started in 2009, and there are 59 teams at three levels playing,” Tranter said.

“It’s drizzling, it’s cloudy. But I have to say, if we were playing football, we would still be on the field in this weather,” Cooper said as he walked across the All-High field.

She looks forward to women’s soccer continuing to grow, including a new potential WFA team recruiting women in Western New York: the Buffalo Yetis.

“Wow. Oh my God. I’m probably too old to try it out, motherfuckers,” Cooper laughed.

For anyone considering taking up a sport they love, she has this advice.

“You have to listen to what you want and don’t let anyone else make that decision for you,” Cooper said. “If you want to try something out or be a part of something, go for it!”

In 1970, only about 300,000 girls in the U.S. participated in any high school sport. They were mainly sports such as swimming or volleyball.

In the 2022-2023 school year, that number was more than 3.3 million, spread across all sports, and that growth also continues in top sports.