BY JOHN BEST
Football is a world where toughness is rewarded – where having strength of mind and body is necessary for survival. It isn’t just a contact sport. It is a collision sport that requires grit and hones primal instincts.
It is this world of adrenaline and aggression that Coach Lori “Lo” Locust has penetrated smoothly and successfully.
Coach Lo is the first-ever female coach for the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks professional indoor football team. The Steelhawks are part of the National Arena League, calling PPL Center in Allentown, home.
In recent decades, the creation of women’s professional soccer and basketball leagues follows the exponential increase in female athletes. Female coaches in those, and other professional and collegiate athletics, are no longer as uncommon as they once were.
However, the nature of football has made it an enduring bastion of male dominance in the athletic arena.
Coach Lo doesn’t talk much about breaking barriers. She loves football, and she knows the game. It is from this perspective that she has been building a successful career.
She has always been a fan of football and, when an opportunity in Harrisburg in 2005 to play in a women’s football league arose, she leapt at the chance. The physical hardship football places on the body usually makes it a game for young people, but not for Coach Lo.
“I was about to turn 40. I was out there with players half my age,” Coach Lo says. “I had to work twice as hard as everyone else.”
She played for four years before a knee injury ended her playing career, but her time on the gridiron was a catalyst that sparked a new fire in her life, she says.
“It took me this long to figure out what I want to be when I grow up,” she says.
In 2010, Coach Lo, who is a certified physical trainer, landed a job leading summer strength and conditioning workouts with the football players at Susquehanna Township High School where her children attended.
After spending hours with her on the football field and realizing she had a high level of understanding of the game, Head Coach Joe Headen invited her to stay on as a coach during the fall season. Soon, Coach Lo was the varsity assistant defensive line coach for the high school, a position she still maintains.
In 2013, Coach Lo began coaching on a men’s semi-pro team, and in 2015, she got a job with the indoor football team Central Penn Capitals. The Steelhawks suffered only two regular season losses last year – both to the Capitals. So, when the Steelhawks started looking for a new linebackers coach this year, they were well aware of who Coach Lo was.
“She understands and knows the game of football very well. She’s been a great addition to our staff and the defense,” Steelhawks Head Coach Chris Thompson says. “She is very proactive in wanting to learn more and understand more.”
As she has toppled any notion of societal expectations, the men and boys she has worked with have, on their end, discredited the idea that football players would descend into macho stereotypes.
“Being a woman has never come up as an issue,” Coach Lo says. “These guys outweigh me and are feet taller than me, but it’s never intimidated me. I’ve been blessed to work where the coaches and players had confidence in me. I’ve been able to transition right in. I’ve never been treated differently.”
Breaking down barriers may be an ancillary outcome of her success, but she doesn’t see herself as part of a movement or trend. She simply is a professional trying to maintain and build a career, and she knows she will be judged on results, she says.
Coach Thompson agrees with that assessment. All the coaches and players will be judged on their performance.
“We live in an industry of what have you done for the team lately,” Coach Thompson says. “Our jobs are on the line every weekend. She’s been working extremely hard.”
Coach Lo says she is impressed with the professionalism within the Steelhawks organization, and that this has been a fantastic opportunity for her to continue to grow as a coach.