Why High School Football Teams Are Embracing Female Athletes

If Friday Night Lights taught us anything, it’s that football in Texas is a really big deal. So how cool is it that in the Lone Star state, the biggest football star everyone’s talking about right now is a girl? That’s right, 17-year-old Reilly Fox is killing it playing varsity football for R.L. Paschal High School in Fort Worth. She’s the first girl to play for the team and in the district in 15 years. (Check out these 20 Iconic Sports Moments Featuring Female Athletes.)

Despite gender and location stereotypes, her Texan coach, Matt Miracle, said he just had to have her on his team after he saw her consistently kick field goals from more than 40 yards out, adding that she’s one of the best kickers he’s ever seen. The fact that she’s a young woman doesn’t phase him at all.

And it doesn’t seem to phase Fox either. “Since I was little, I always liked playing football,” she told CBS. “I was always a tomboy, so I would always want to go play with the boys. And I wouldn’t want to play with the girls.”

Fox isn’t the only young lady out there with the guys. (What You Should Know About Jen Welter, the NFL’s Newest Coach.) Even though we don’t hear much about them, the National Federation of State High School Associations reports that there are more than 1,600 girls playing on high school football teams in the U.S.—that includes quarterbacks, linebackers, and ends too. Fox is joining a still small but damn impressive group, including these star athletes:

Mary Kate Smith, who, in 2014, made headlines for starting on the varsity football team during their homecoming game and then later being crowned homecoming queen. And if anyone told her she plays like a girl, she had a ready retort: “I take that as a compliment!”

Erin DiMeglio, who played quarterback for her varsity team and made a miracle pass in her first game in 2012 that not only allowed her team to win but also made history. She was the first female QB in south Florida’s high school football history.

Lisa Spangler, who earned a spot as a starter linebacker on her Washington high school team in 2011. “I never expected to have a girl be my middle linebacker, but my job is to get the best 11 on the field, and she’s one of my best,” her coach, Eric Ollikainen, said.

And for people concerned about safety, consider this: While football ranks as one of the most dangerous high school sports, with 1.96 injuries per 100,000 players, cheerleading has an even worse injury record with 2.68 injuries per 100,000 competitors. Yep, you’re safer playing on the gridiron than cheering next to it. (Not that we’re saying cheerleading is bad; in fact, it is a serious sport and we wish the athletes who do it got more recognition for their talent.)

In the end, anything that gets more young women playing sports at any level is a good thing in our playbooks and we hope to see more females kicking butt on the field!

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