The Real Story

How it all started...

I love playing sports!

I love the camaraderie, the competition (with both myself and others), and the challenges. I especially love what I’ve learned about myself.

As a kid, I wanted to play every sport. I played softball, volleyball, basketball, swimming, gymnastics… you name it, I tried it! But there was one sport I always wanted to play: my favorite sport, football. In sixth grade, after learning about the St. Mary’s of Riverside (IL) tackle football team, I begged my parents to sign me up. It took some convincing, but after they saw how badly I wanted to play, they allowed it.

When I went to sign up, the head coach pointed to the cheerleading table and told me sign ups for girls were there. Since there had never been a female to sign up to play, it became apparent that this would be a lot bigger than “just playing.”

At the time, I didn’t understand why it was a big deal. In my mind, I was just going to play a sport I loved. But after the news of a female football player spread around our small town, some people became vocal about their disapproval of letting a female play in a male dominated sport. There was even a parent who approached my mom on the train and expressed his opposition.

The first couple of weeks were pure conditioning. I had never worked that hard before! There were some boys who could not handle the workouts and quit. Even though there were times I wanted to give up, I knew I had to stick it out because if I didn’t, it would close the doors for other girls who would want to play in the future. This drove me to work harder and want to be better than everyone.

When it was time to get fitted for pads, there was concern about how tackling would affect a developing girl. At first, I thought my coaches would throw in the towel and tell me I couldn’t play anymore. But instead, they worked with me and even reached out to various athletic stores to create a special chest protector.

When we received our equipment I felt like a “real” football player, although I had a lot of work ahead of me! Prior to St. Mary’s, I only played two-hand-touch at the park with friends. I didn’t really know all the positions, the rules of the game, or even how to safely tackle. After each practice, I would go home and continue to practice the fundamentals over and over again.

When we mastered proper stances and starts and the correct tackling form, it was time to showcase our new skills through various tackling drills. The very first drill, I charged full speed ahead and practically knocked my opponent out. It was as if something that had been built up for years was released. My teammates were immediately impressed and were just as excited about it as I was. For the rest of the season, players feared lining up across from me during tackling drills.

My hard work and talent led to becoming a lineman- offensive tackle and defensive guard. At first, I was disappointed about being a lineman. Linemen are usually bigger athletes and it’s one of the least notable positions. I wanted to be a running back or a receiver so I could feel like I was playing football- the positions that are most highlighted by the media and others. I would soon learn how crucial linemen are to the game.

The last practice before our first game, I was named a captain of the St. Mary’s football team. I took this title with pride and wanted to lead by example. On offense, there were times where I was double teamed- having two opponents line up against me as I kept them from making tackles in our backfield. On defense, I led the team with the most tackles game after game and by the end of the season, I set the record for the most tackles in the league (79). I became unstoppable!

Throughout our season, my coach asked me to conceal my gender. He was concerned that other teams would target me if they knew I was a female. There was one game, however, when he allowed me to reveal I was a female. Our opponents had played a dirty game and I sustained an injury from a cheap shot. At the end of the game, Coach asked me to take my helmet off and shake out my hair while we lined up to say, “good game.” Watching my opponent’s jaw drop, knowing they just got their butt kicked by a girl, was pretty amazing!

When our regular season ended, we only lost one game. We worked hard to prepare for our playoff season and made it to the Championship game. By this time, others who doubted my ability began to see me as an athlete, and not just a female. After a hard fought game, we won 6-0 in overtime and were crowned champions of the 2001 Chicago Catholic League.