Football is one of the greatest sports in the world. Football has the power of bringing together people from all walks of life. Football doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, black, white, or brown, old or young. In order to enjoy football as a player or spectator, you just have to be competitive, a little bit intense, and really, really enjoy hits.
Over the past few decades, football has also revealed that it doesn’t care if you’re male or female. Women make up a huge chunk of football fans, and they are also establishing themselves as valuable assets to football programs as players, coaches, and even officials. Throughout my football career, as a player at the high school and collegiate levels, and now as a high school coach, I’ve been able to see this transformation first hand.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, approximately 1,500 girls played high school football during the ’14-’15 season. Lots of football players have had a girl on their team, or they have had a girl play against them. One of my favorite football memories is when I was coaching during a pre-season high school scrimmage, and we played against a Maryland team, which has a girl placekicker. This was the first time in my life that I have ever played against another female football player. This was also the same weekend when Jen Welter (who participated in the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship for the Atlanta Falcons) and Sarah Thomas (the first female official for the NFL) were involved in the same pre-season game. More recently, during a playoff game outside of Pittsburgh two girl kickers competed against one another. These examples show that girls are establishing themselves as permanent fixtures in the football landscape, we’re not just a brief fad. At the high school level, female football players have proven to be reliable placekickers, and they have stepped up to the plate as offensive linemen, defensive backs, and even quarterbacks.
As female football players are becoming more common on high school football teams, more and more girls are taking their talents to the collegiate level. Here too we have seen girl football players as placekickers, punters, defensive backs, etc, and girls have played at a variety of schools, ranging from small D3 programs like Lebanon Valley College to big D1 programs like the University of New Mexico and Kent State.
A girl’s football career doesn’t need to end once she graduates high school or college. Although still fairly rare, there are a handful of female football coaches across the country. There are girls who coach Pop Warner, high school, college and even NFL teams. Female football coaches have worked as qb coaches, lineman coaches, placekicker/punter coaches, and even head coaches. Most notably, Kathryn Smith worked as the Special Teams Quality Control Coach for the Buffalo Bills. She started her football career as a game day/special events intern for the Jets in 2003, and worked her way up to player personnel assistant and administrative assistant to Rex Ryan. In 2016, Coach Smith became the first female to earn a full-time paid coaching spot in the NFL.
Women in football are also gaining more acceptance in our society, which can be especially seen through the media. Currently, there are two commercials that highlight females in football. One is a commercial for AutoTrader, which follows a young girl and her dad as she grows up. The commercial begins with the girl kicking everything from her car seat to a karate dummy, a soccer ball, and then finally a football for her high school team. All while her dad look on with a smile.
There is also an Activia commercial showcasing Sarah Thomas, where she highlights the importance of believing in herself and serving as a role model for her daughter as she works as a ref in the NFL. The path hasn’t been easy, but with the efforts of countless women, we are now being more and more welcomed by our society as a whole.
When Katie Hnida first played college football, I remember seeing a survey on ESPN’s website. Katie Hnida missed her first extra point attempt, and the poll question asked readers to share their opinion about having a girl play college football, where “never again” was an option. As a girl who was playing college football at the time, it was a really disappointing message to see. Now, over a decade later, following the work of thousands of females who are football players, coaches, and officials, “never again” is no longer an option.
Football is an invigorating, challenging, and rewarding endeavor. If you have grit, are physically and mentally tough, and love the game, you can be a great asset to a football program. Regardless if you are a male or female. Over the past decade, it has been so rewarding to see the growth that women have made in football, and it is exciting to think of what lies ahead.
Coach V has been involved in football for over 10 years, playing jv and varsity football for her high school as a placekicker, and then going on the play D3 football. Coach V now serves as an assistant high school football coach, where she works with the program’s specialists. Coach V’s athletes have earned team, conference, and state honors.