Girl on the Football Team

Maybe it’s the crispness in the air (well, as crisp as the air can be with 82% humidity). Or maybe it’s that pumpkin everything has hit the stores. Or maybe it’s that a couple of people from my home town posted this article to my Facebook page. Whatever the trigger, I’ve been thinking a lot about when I played football.

That’s right. In 7th and 8th grade I played good, old-fashioned, American football for Paulding Middle School. I played tight end in 7th grade (below) and wide receiver in 8th.

Curt Christy_crop

Curt, one of our linemen, and me.
7th grade, 1990

Part of what I’ve been thinking about is the major accomplishments in my life. I still consider this to be one of them. I’d love to say that I had well thought out reasons for wanting to play football, but I didn’t. So why did I do it?

-Partially, because in 6th grade, at recess, a boy told me that girls couldn’t play football. In good, old, Christy fashion, I remember thinking, “Oh yeah? We’ll see.”
-Partially, because I wanted to play with my guy friends in the same way that we always had up through 6th grade, since 7th grade started a time of no more recess.
-Partially, because my parents like football, and I thought they would be proud of me.
-Partially, because I liked football, and I wanted to play.

If I had realized how emotionally and mentally hard it was going to be, I probably wouldn’t have made the same decision. The choice I made resulted in me being in way over my head. It was hard in so many ways I never would have expected. It was even hard in ways I should have expected, but the physicality of the sport still turned out to be a surprise for me. Overall, being the only girl on the football team was an incredibly isolating experience. I didn’t really have the vocabulary to describe the complexities of what I was experiencing. Mostly it would come out as complaining to whoever I was talking to, whether it be friends or my parents. They would usually remind me that I didn’t have to continue playing. There was no way I could talk to my team mates, because I couldn’t show “weakness” to them.

I was also in the paper and on the local news, which also felt isolating. I remember feeling embarrassed that the reporters wanted to talk to me at all. I hadn’t done anything special yet (and I never really did-I was only a mediocre player, at best). I just wanted to play football. But I did the interviews anyway, because I felt like I had to. And of course, these interviews let others in the area know who I was. I remember when our team walked onto the Bryan, OH football field, and I heard someone on the other team say, “There she is. Number 84.” I knew I was in for a hurting at some point during that game. In fact, that game I was clipped by a guy who seemed to be three times bigger than me, after the whistle was blown, when I was no where near the ball. Of course the ref didn’t see anything. I guess that guy thought he put me in my place, but I got up and kept on playing… It hurt though. If you can remember something from 7th grade, you know it hurt.

But for the times that I felt ostracized and un-liked, there were also the times that I felt accepted. One day in practice we did a hitting drill. There were two lines facing each other, and one person from one line would go up against two from the other. It was haphazard who you would be across from, but somehow when it was my turn I was up against Curt (see picture above) and Charlie. Charlie was just as big as Curt, if not bigger. They plowed me into the ground. But I got up as quick as I could, which was pretty fast considering I couldn’t breathe, and started walking to the back of the line. As I walked, the tears started welling in my eyes from the pain at about the same time someone noticed and said, “Figures. She’s gonna start crying.” Someone quickly responded, “I’d cry too if I’d just gone up against Curt and Charlie.” I was so incredibly thankful for whoever had my back, as I continued walking to my place in the back of the line. 

09242014_Football portrait

I even had my own fan art!

So, maybe I’m still figuring out the lessons that my football playing days have to offer.

-Certainly there’s a lesson about perseverance, and how sticking with something tough can pay off.
-There has to be another lesson in there about not being able to please all of the people all of the time. As my lab mate might say, “Haters gonna hate.”
-There’s also a lesson in there about not letting the man get you down. I could have missed that really cool experience, because my principal didn’t want me to play. (Fortunately my parents were supportive. I later learned that they threatened the school with a law suit I wasn’t permitted to play.)
-I think there’s another lesson in there about how some life accomplishments come about because of how you handle choices and situations. They don’t necessarily need to be the result of a well-orchestrated plan.
-Maybe there’s a lesson in there about how some of the haphazard choices we make in our lives can be some of the most important.

I’m sure there are more lessons in there somewhere. I guess it’s pretty cool that I’m still figuring them out 20+ years later…

I was never homecoming queen material, but I’m proud that those newspaper articles of me as a girl football player are out there of me somewhere. (I’ve actually been trying to track them down. These were pre-internet days…) And when I see other young women playing football or other sports that supposedly aren’t girl sports, it makes me happy. I’m glad that I played my little role in a little town in northwest Ohio back in the early 1990’s, but I’m glad to see more young women stepping up and fighting gender stereotypes across the country.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading my somewhat meandering thoughts on my football career!

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