At our doorstep: Girls Football

In the past week, my emotions have gone from over the moon, to overwhelmed with fury.

The week started with the national news carrying Pinckney, Mich., senior Brianna Amat who was named homecoming queen at halftime and who, at game's end, kicked her team's winning field goal.

Usually, I'm less than thrilled with journalists focusing on homecoming queens who happen to play football. It seemed, around 15 years ago, that the girls all either were kickers or they set an example unreachable for most other girls who might hear the story and be interested. After all, many more girls can play football than ever could be nominated homecoming queen.

Still, as a girl who had the chance to play high school football, I looked for any story about another girl who shared my interest. In those days, there were few.

In a Barbie world, Amat was honored by her classmates in her No. 12 jersey. I am willing to wager $100 that in ten years, she'll be more thrilled about how she helped her team win that game. I know because I remember my homecoming game ... the same kind of nailbiter Amat put away.

Later in the week, I was reading out of the pile of magazines I have collected this month and came across Panama (N.Y.) Panthers senior Andrea Marsh, who was honored in Sports Illustrated's feature Faces in the Crowd. I was pumped to see not only a female football player honored in one of the top publications for sports junkies in the world, but also to see a girl who is not only playing football - but who is dominating. Marsh co-leads her team this season in tackles and is a force at defensive back where she has strated for two years. Here's her story:

On Thursday, the tides turned when I read this story below about Mina Johnson, an eighth grader at Southampton Academy. She competes on the JV team at her high school (a private school which bans cross-participation by boys/girls on their respective teams). I am currently investigating the Title IX implications of the private school charter and the legality of the rule, but regardless, Mina was affected.

The team's recent opponent threatened to forfeit if Mina was allowed to play. She didn't ... even though she's been an anchor so far this season (three sacks in a recent game), and it was a shame for her and her teammates to have Mina on the bench. I like that Southampton Academy beat up on the other team by 60 in a shutout on principle, but Mina Johnson and her teammates should never be in this position.

Before I get too ahead of myself, here's the link:

The encouraging thing I'm seeing lately in the media is that there are more girls than ever who are interested in playing football at all positions, and they're not just on the team. The three girls I mentioned in this blog post are good - they work hard - and they are the future of TEAM USA in America.

Overseas last summer one of the remarkable things was that European teams (especially Finland, Sweden and Austria) had many girls under the age of 19. It wasn't fair in some ways, but then again, they were provided a very special opportunity lost on many girls in the U.S.: the chance to be really great at football by starting as early as possible.

Thousands of women competing in the WFA, IWFL and other leagues (more than 100 teams scheduled to kick off in the 2012 season) face a future of more sunset than sunrise. This season on my Atlanta team alone, more than half of the women who suited up for a game were more than 30 years old. It's a trend I think you would see across our sport.

That statistic doesn't translate quality - because many of those players are absolutely at the top of their games - and might compare to seasoned NFL players in terms of game management, refined skill, strength and overall knowledge. There are so many women who deserve credit for the development of women's football in this country, pioneers to whom we owe everything. Still, all of us need to look to our future, and our future is in these girls.

Someday I'd love to see girls tackle football developed at high schools or on the club level (traveling leagues) as prominently as boys - beginning at ages 8-9. Even though there are many peewee leagues now, I think there's something to be said for not tackling too early. With concussions, dangerous injuries in football and the overall lack of knowledge by coaches and lack of certified athletic trainers onhand, I'd prefer boys and girls learn the skills before they actually tackle.

In the interim, girls need high school football coaches and teammates who are supportive. Some parents (hopefully most) will be supportive of a daughter's desire to compete in a nontraditional girls sport because it is vital she be afforded this opportunity.

When I played football in high school, I didn't realize it would change my life. When I put Mina Johnson's story out to TEAM USA teammates, I didn't realize many of them had stories like my own.

Who knows what these girls will be capable of in 10 years - or five - if they are allowed the opportunity to compete over time and then help lead women's football teams across the country. I have felt a need to connect with girls who are participating in football in middle and high schools in Georgia, but I think now that in a global world, these girls are at our doorstep.

In reading an article the other day, I came across this quote from Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee: “It’s not enough to be comfortable and say the world’s problems belong to the world. One day the world’s problems will meet you at your doorstep.”

To all of us who have a stake in the future for women's tackle football, the time is now... our doorstep is full of girls who are not only playing tackle football, but leading their teams. Some are still being denied that opportunity, but the dawn is breaking on the problem, and it's up to all of us to take action.

In my mind, my days as a player aren't quite up yet, but my days as a fighter for this cause have just begun. Stay tuned for more ...


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