"Girls can do anything boys can do."
Visit any playground in the United States, and you are almost guaranteed to hear this phrase being shouted by a handful of girls.
Times have changed from when the only sport girls could participate in was croquet. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972 requires girls and boys to have equal opportunities to participate in sports. But while the playing field has changed, it is not yet level.
Many girls across America still refrain from joining teams in sports considered only for boys. One of these is football, categorized by the Indiana High School Athletic Association on its Web site as a "boys sport."
Y-Press interviewed several girls who like to play football: Christine Romero, 14; Monica Battle, 13; Autumn Martin, 14; and Alicia Kimmel, 18. Christine, Monica and Autumn attend St. Michael School, where they wished to play football but were discouraged from doing so. Alicia, however, was more fortunate. A senior at Madison (Ind.) High School, she was the kicker for the team last season.
For many young women who want to play football, it is still a dream and nothing more. "People in my family like to play it, and I'm like one of the only girls in my family. I've grown up playing football," Autumn said.
Last summer, Autumn, Monica and Christine asked to try out for their school team. While athletic director Ty Hunt was willing, the Catholic Youth Organization, which oversees athletic competition among Catholic schools, was not.
While the St. Michael boys played football, the girls were offered kickball. "They have kickball for us, but that's not really a sport we can go into high school and play," Christine said.
Alicia also grew up playing football with her two brothers. As a freshman, she was kicking a football in gym class when the football coach saw her and asked if she wanted to play. But his requirements were too strict.
"They said I could've done it my freshman year, but the coach then said that I'd have to give up soccer, and I wasn't willing to do that," said Alicia, who has played soccer all through high school. Then, in her senior year, they offered to let her do both.
Last summer, Alicia tried out separately for the coach, who then brought up the idea of a female kicker to the team. It wasn't a problem. "He said, 'None of you guys can do any better,' and they were like, 'You're right,' " Alicia recalled. She took part in practices and conditioning with the rest of the team.
"I didn't do it just to be different or to get the publicity," she said. "I had always wanted to do something like that, but I never had been given the chance."
One concern is that girl football players will get injured because the boys are generally bigger and the pads are not made for female bodies. But the St. Michael girls aren't afraid of getting hurt. "You can get hurt in any other sport," Monica said.
Alicia said if girls wear the proper equipment, there is no reason why they should be hurt by tackles.
"I have been tackled two or three times, and I got hit a couple of times in practice on accident, and it doesn't really hurt you. It just kind of shocks you more than hurts you," she said.
Another concern is that girls are not as physically strong as boys. While the St. Michael girls disagreed -- "Girls are just as strong as boys, and some of us are stronger than them," Autumn said -- Alicia said that at the high school level, it's an issue.
"I think that if I was on the defensive line, being my size, I probably would've gotten killed out on the field," she said.
Another obstacle is acceptance. "When I said I wanted to play football, like, all the boys teased me and stuff," Christine said.
Alicia also withstood some teasing, mainly from other teams. "I think a lot of them were shocked that there was a girl on the team, but they played the same way that they would've if a guy was playing. Some of them got a little cocky about it, you know: 'Oh, a girl's playing; we're gonna have to tackle her even harder just to show her up.' But they never did," she said.
Of course, there are some problems with being the only girl on the team.
"It was sometimes difficult when I went to other schools because of the locker room situation," she said. "I'm not allowed to change with the guys, so I had to find other places to change. And sometimes I would end up in bathrooms or offices."
But none of these problems slowed Alicia down. In the opening game of the season against Charlestown, she made an extra-point kick to win the game with only 31 seconds left. For the season, she was 15-for-20 in extra point attempts.
All the St. Michael girls felt that given enough support, they would have fought harder for the chance to play.
"Everybody says, 'Just don't worry about it, it's not that big a deal.' But it's the whole point: We would have fun playing football, and they don't let us," Autumn said.
On the other hand, Alicia had the full support of her family and friends.
"My dad was really excited about it for some reason. He thought it would be really neat because my brother played football, and my little brother was on the team at the time," she said. "And my mom, she was OK with it. You know, she at first thought, 'What if you get hurt?' because it was my senior year, and I played soccer and I was planning on going to college to play soccer. So if I got hurt, it would kind of ruin that for me."
But Alicia felt a responsibility to make a good impression.
"I felt that I needed to make sure I did my best . . . because some people said, 'A girl playing? She can't do as good as a guy.' And I felt that I didn't want to let my coach down because I knew that some coaches were like, 'That's pathetic that he's letting a girl play.' So I did feel very responsible."
She has no regrets.
"I think I've had some impact in my town because there is a girl now playing on the senior high (football) team, and there were a couple of girls who signed up for the flag football in our town. And a lot of them wanted to meet me and stuff and talk to me and see how it was. So it was really neat that I could make an impact like that."
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Joey Glass, 14; Patrick Beyer, 14; Shannon Neumeyer, 14; Courtney Sampson, 14; Ethan Walden, 14.
REPORTERS: Caitlin Shepherd, 13; Ben Hohman, 13.