Carrie Baumgard and I were the only girls in a neighborhood full of boys, so hard knocks, bumps, bruises and scraped knees were nothing abnormal for the two of us. In fact, the highlight of our lazy summer days were the many games of tackle football with the boys, and contrary to what one would expect, Carrie Baumgard and I were never scared to face off against the boys.
Neighborhood football games were so important to us that we would even circle the football pads and uniform set in the Sears catalogue every Christmas, until our moms finally told us they were only for boys.
My, how times have changed.
During this Women’s History month, I can’t help but think about and appreciate what playing neighborhood football taught me. Things like grit and tenacity were necessary when we were trying to compete against the boys in Teddy Smith’s front yard, and they certainly had no intention of cutting us any slack for being girls.
At the time, though, I sure wanted them to! Carrie and I sure could have benefitted from two-hand touch or head-starts or a seven point cushion. As I recall, I would grab ahold of Freddie Beedle’s mid-section on the twenty yard line (which was just the imaginary line extending from the third azalea bush to the edge of the driveway), and he would drag me halfway down Teddy’s front yard before I was able to get him to the ground. And trying to chase speedy Teddy down was impossible, so I just tried to outsmart him (which I only thought I could do because he was just a little 6th grader, and I was in 7th grade therefore smarter by default).
But now, looking back, I’m glad the boys gave us no accommodations, because on the front yard football field is where I learned never to let go and never to stop chasing. Those grass stains and skinned knees were badges of honor, hard fought proclamations that Carrie Baumgard and I are strong enough to battle with the big boys.
Now, almost thirty years later, I got a little bubbly with pride when I heard of some local girls who have taken a front yard football game to a whole new, history-making level.
With more grit and tenacity than I ever had at their age, T’Keya Hill, Laquitta Smith, Olivia Floyd and Jadakiss Grant represented Muscogee County in the first-ever State wrestling championship for girls.
Digest that for a moment. I thought tackling Freddie Beedle was hard, but these girls are high school wrestlers!
Important to note, though, is that they didn’t just “participate” in one of the most tiresome, grueling sports there is: they dominated enough to earn a trip to the State tournament. Their role on the team was not some token statement by forward-thinking coaches like Russell Scott at Jordan, Alex Sturgeon at Hardaway and Namu Keys at Columbus. Their experiences weren’t padded by political correctness, nor were they sheltered from the demands of the sport because they were girls. Oh, no. On the contrary. From what I hear, their coaches held nothing back.
And I bet those coaches did so because they noticed something special in these girls, something many young girls possess within themselves but fail to recognize — strength.
So, they took a chance. They welcomed girls onto their wrestling mat.
Sometimes only the special bond between a coach and his athletes can bring out the unlimited potential of a player. It’s magical, really, and it certainly takes an extraordinary coach to welcome a girl into a boy’s world. Combine the down-deep-inside power of a young girl’s desire to wrestle the impossible with the see-no-boundaries mentality of a high school coach, and the results are inspirational pins and history-making trips to State.
Carrie Baumgard and I sure never won a place at State from our front yard football games. We never made history or caused anyone to take notice. We didn’t blaze any trails or make any marks in the progression of sports.
But what if….
What if we had a coach like Coach Scott who encouraged us to try? Or Coach Sturgeon who didn’t tell us no? Or Coach Keys who coached us regardless? What if…
Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus, GA. Please contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.