Decked out in sparkles, gems and tutus, the ladies of the Ravens fan base posed for pictures on the field of M&T Bank Stadium on Monday. Then they threw footballs, caught passes and chased down flags in a competitive game of flag football.

The Ravens “A Purple Evening” event was the perfect combination of “cutesy girly” and “hard tomboy,” Jada Paschall said. She loved it, but she wasn’t prepared for it.

The Baltimore County makeup artist got the invite only because one of her mom’s friends backed out. She didn’t know what to expect, so she wore a skirt and fun purple makeup. Then she saw the ladies throwing down on the football field.

“I thought we were all being cutesy,” Paschall said. “No. We’re getting hard. Next year, I’m coming in hard. Because I play sports, but I didn’t know.”

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Thanks to her mom, she’s been a football fan all her life. She played sports all her life and, before changing career paths, wanted to be a physical therapist. But she had never experienced an event quite like A Purple Evening, which sold out all 4,000 tickets to female Ravens fans.

“An all-girls event? What?” Paschall exclaimed with a laugh. “We never have an all-girls space. We need an all-girls space. It gives a time, an experience to just be here, be in an all-man’s world where we’re taking over.”

Ravens running back Justice Hill agrees. Out of all the Ravens’ community events, he always tries to attend A Purple Evening. He loves meeting fans, especially lifelong Ravens fans like many of the attendees — and the ladies keep him on his toes, he said. Females make up almost half of the Ravens fanbase, said Joshua Lukin, the Ravens’ senior director of brand strategy and advertising.

Hill said he’s attended at least three of the events and has been impressed every time. It’s also been eye-opening.

“[You see] how much the team means to them,” Hill said. “Because you know a lot of men like sports and stuff, but you don’t realize the ladies are just as excited about it as the men are.”

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Hill set up at one of the drills on the field. He shook hands, gave out hugs, shared laughs and took photos before passing the ball to each fan. It was great seeing how much they enjoyed running similar drills to what the Ravens do at practice, he said. And Hill could definitely picture his mom participating in and loving the event.

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The drills and the football lessons happening on the concourse have been a focus since the event started, Lukin said. The event started 17 years ago primarily as a Football 101 clinic with about 200 attendees. Over the years, it grew and evolved based on fans’ feedback.

The biggest addition this year, Lukin said, was that the fans got to be on the field itself of being confined to the sidelines. It was a huge hit. Besides participating in drills, fans took photos of themselves on the field and sitting on the logo at the 50-yard line.

For Paschall, it was the best part because it gave her the sense of what it’s actually like to be a Raven.

“Being on the field, being able to touch it and see where they play has been amazing,” Paschall said. “We’re about to do the locker room tour. I want to feel all of it. I want to get the whole experience.”

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The other goal of A Purple Evening is to connect the fans and the players, Lukin said. That was done through photograph and autograph sessions, drills and games onstage. Eighteen current players, including Marlon Humphrey and Kyle Hamilton, and five former players attended, including Chris McAlister and Daniel Wilcox.

For friends Lena Wallop and Tawanda Redding, the chance to take photos was the biggest draw when they discovered the event through a Google search of “Ravens activities.”

The two have been Ravens fans “forever,” and their shared love of their team has been a big bonding experience. One day, the two of them ran into the Ravens at a hotel. They filled up a disposable camera of pictures with the players. And then they lost the camera.

“We were sick,” Wallop said. “So we came for the chance to run into them again.”

Both at the hotel and at A Purple Evening, they were incredibly impressed by how nice and polite each player was.

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Noted locker room nice guy Roquan Smith was impressed with the ladies in turn. The fans he met stunned him with the depth of their knowledge – some knew exactly where he was from and where he went to school. Some, like Jill Wood, even played football, a rarity because there aren’t many opportunities for girls.

Wood, who got into sports through her grandfather, has attended at least 15 A Purple Evening events. Back in the day, she met Ed Reed, who is a defensive back like her.

“I was great,” Wood said with a huge grin. “I made interceptions.”

Wood has seen the event evolve and said she feels like the Ravens have done a great job of serving their female fans. Not every team holds events for ladies, but over half of the 32 teams do. The teams share ideas, although people “tackle it in different ways,” Lukin said. For example, the Detroit Lions held an in-game event for the female fan club.

However, A Purple Evening tries to reach fans who don’t attend games, in addition to season-ticket holders.

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“There are only so many seats in there,” Hill said. “Tickets are expensive, too. So they don’t really get to enjoy it. But, when they come in, they actually get to see the stadium. They go in the locker room, get to see the locker room, all those things that make them feel really special.”

Lukin said they hope the event is an introduction into other ways for fans to get involved, such as “Ravens Purple,” “an exclusive space for all female fans to connect over their love of the Ravens” according to the website. The fan club was the first of its kind, and it has a newsletter that notifies fans about announcements, offers and upcoming events.

A Purple Evening is one of the highest-profile events, Lukin said, and one of the last of the year – although he hopes they’ll be hosting a playoff party in January.

When it returns next year, Lukin said, they’ll once again take into account the feedback, which fans aren’t shy about sharing. They’ll definitely have to plan around the field being available, since it was such a hit.

And, when it returns, Pachall expects another invite from her mom. This time, she’ll be ready to run, throw and catch with the best of them.

giana.han@thebaltimorebanner.com

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