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Buffalo has never experienced an NFL 101 football clinic for women quite like the inaugural event of three years ago.

Participants toured the stadium and the locker room. They traveled from station to station, soaking up terminology, positioning and strategy from Bills alumni. For the grand finale they were divided into teams for a scrimmage - the last scrimmage, it turned out, conducted at Buffalo's NFL 101.

"The alumni wanted that stopped because some women were too aggressive," said Gretchen Leffler, regional executive director of the event's primary beneficiary, the American Cancer Society. "They wanted to tackle."

"I guess I was probably one of them," confessed Laura Stuber, who played cornerback. "Before that I couldn't have told you what a corner even did. By the end of the day I knew what I was supposed to do. I wasn't supposed to let her (the receiver) past a designated area. And I didn't."

If only Robert Hicks had approached practice with comparable ferocity.

"That was unbelievable," said Charley Ferguson, treasurer of the Bills' alumni association. "We ran about two plays and they wanted to go at each other."

"If I'm not mistaken, someone got hurt that first time," said Lorraine Clemente. "Ankle, ribs, I don't remember what it was."

Stuber and Clemente were supporters of the American Cancer Society when the idea of a football course for women was conceived. Both thought it was an absolutely awful idea. Neither was much of a football fan nor had any great desire to embarrass themselves by unveiling their lack of gridiron knowledge. Both participated because proceeds benefited the fight against breast cancer, a disease that will afflict an estimated 193,700 Americans this year while bearing responsibility for 40,600 deaths.

"I was one of the naysayers at first," said Clemente, the West Side business development coordinator for the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. "I thought, "How are we going to get ladies to do this?' Like me, I'm a professional woman. I didn't want to go out there and get sweaty and stuff.

"If it wasn't for the cause I don't think I would have had an interest in learning anymore about football," Clemente said. "Because of the cause, I did it. I was one of the first ones out there, running around like a silly person."

"I couldn't believe," Stuber said, "I was going to spend a Saturday in the blazing sun looking like a fool."

Their perceptions have changed. Stuber, 43, and Clemente, 41, will be participating for the fourth straight year when NFL 101 reconvenes from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Oct. 2 at Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse. Stuber, employed by the Iroquois Job Corp., compares it to watching a good movie over and over. Each time she absorbs an aspect of the game that escaped her during a previous session. Each time her appreciation deepens, her understanding expands.

"For the person who's kind of a novice at football . . . it's a great opportunity for them to become a fan," she said. "And it's fun."

About 100 women have participated in Buffalo's NFL 101 each season. Age is no barrier. "Believe me," Leffler said, "we get women in their 70s and 80s."

Ferguson, a Bills receiver from 1963-69, said the clinic's format has been well-received. Instead of sitting through a lecture, the participants visit eight stations and receive insight into line play, receiver routes, positional responsibilities and such.

"Rather than go to the board and try to go through the X's and O's, we really try to get them to understand what goes on as we demonstrate it out on the field," Ferguson said. "And then they can go home and try to teach their husbands something. They all think they know it all. We tell the women we're really trying to help you make those guys look bad at home."

Or, at the least, raise their eyebrows.

"Before she ever went to that she couldn't tell you what was a football and what was a basketball," said George Stuber, Laura's husband. And now?

"You would think she's been a Buffalo Bills fan forever."


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