Yeah, that’s right- I said football.
Freshman year of high school went surprisingly well. Just don’t count: my grandfather passing from Alzheimers, my first high school crush calling me a “dog” in front of his friends, my first boyfriend cheating on me and leaving me for one of my friends, getting a can full of sticky soda beamed at my head for being mistaken as the cheat, my second boyfriend cheating on me and leaving me for one of my friends, or the fact that I would never again have full movement or flexibility of my knee. Other than those few small things, the experience was just peachy.
I don’t remember what day it was when I lost my grandfather, just that it was in the fall. Come to think of it, I can’t even remember anything about the funeral other than my depraved father taking photos of the “family being back together” outside of the funeral home and at the cemetery. I remember my dad smiling while taking the photos. None of us smiled.
I was completely devastated, but held strong for my mom who was even more so. Still, I felt like I had nothing left to loose. On some wild notion at a football game, I decided to demand my parents allow me to go after a crazy childhood dream. I wanted to play football like my childhood idol Emmitt Smith. (Yeah, I was a six year old white girl idolizing a black guy. Take that racism!)
I decided to give my mom time to cope with her loss and waited until I got word of a football meeting just before spring. I remember taking a deep breath before marching into the room to demand my parents approval. Oddly enough, after stating my demand my mom looked at me with soft eyes and said “okay.” It was the only time in my life my mother so easily approved of something I wanted to do- football, of all things. She later told me the decision came from the passing of her dad. She knew he would have been proud of me.
The following day, I was in my advanced p.e. class when the football coach reminded us of the meeting. I swear my ears perked up like those of a Great Dane. My friends laughed at my goofy smile and from this it somehow got out about my RSVP to the meeting. The coach, “Buck,” said nothing. I got a few high fives and then headed to the locker room. I had to walk past Buck and when I did I looked at him smiling and said, “See you at the meeting!”
“No you won’t.”
I don’t know why, but I was completely shocked by the statement. I also don’t know if my still goofy grinned “Oh, yes I will!” happened because of naivety or because I’m slow to catch on to things. I decided to let it go and see if things would be different at the meeting.
The meeting was different. I was terrified. I walked into the room with shaky hands and beads of nervous sweat forming along my hairline. I was alone in a room full of staring eyes. I was smiling, but this time it was a cover for the fear.
Coach Buck played a video, and made announcements about when conditioning and tryouts would take place. He also made extra effort toward special comments about the things he wouldn’t tolerate on his team, including weakness. This would have been OK if he hadn’t been starting at me in a fashion that made me feel threatened.
When the meeting ended, I gathered my belongings and went to leave. Coach Buck stood firmly with his arms crossed, and a cold harsh look on his face. He then locked eyes with mine and with daggers stated; “You can come to the meeting, but no girl will ever play on my team.” My face hardened into a defensive glare towards him for a moment, and I left the room.
I saw my friends shortly after the meeting. I must have looked horrified because the smiles quickly faded into looks of concern. I was asked what had happened and directly quoted the coach. I was in a state of shock and don’t remember which friend asked me what I was going to do, but I remember shrugging in a defeated fashion.
“Do you really want to do this? Play football?” They asked.
“Yes, more than anything,” I said. I was then seized by the wrist and became part of a charge to the principal’s office to inform him of the sexism I had just experienced. Upon hearing it, he looked at me and told me to follow him. I did. We headed off to find Coach Buck.
What happened next was a colorful display of the different shades of red two grown men’s faces can turn in a shouting match. I don’t remember the specifics- just that the principal was telling the coach that he couldn’t stop me from playing because I’m a girl, and the coach telling the principal, in so many words, that he most certainly could. Coach Buck was staring at me furiously through a good portion of the match. I stared back with a somewhat smug look on my face. I was also worried the veins in his neck would explode.
The veins held strong as Buck stormed off. The principal told me to report anymore problems to him and hurriedly left. I wish I had listened.
A group of football players had been gathered during the episode. Two high fived me. Others scolded me. I was terrified.
Soon after, I was headed out the doors to make my bus when “Buddy” stopped me to ask what the fight was about. I told him. He high fived me and said “You’re playing? Awesome!” Buddy was a football player. He was kind and everyone loved him.
The sound of the high five echoed through my ears and calmed some of my fear. I smiled genuinely for a moment and took a deep breath. I felt a soft touch of calmness and cherished it, knowing it would be the last one I would have for a while.
But I had no idea what hell I had just gotten myself into… (to be continued)