“Girls can’t play football.”
That was the only thought racing through my mind. I didn't understand. What’s the big deal? I’m taller than half of these kids. I snapped back to reality. Sweat trickled down my forehead. Blood was rushing through my body.
During the car ride there, my sister kept telling me that I would be a natural. I wasn’t sure what to believe. As we neared the school, my heart quickly speed up. Questions popped into my head furiously. What are the boys gonna think? What if they already have a better kicker? What if I suck?
My stomach was churning back and forth. The car halted to a stop. Frantic and worried, I cautiously stumbled out of the black car. I slowly paced over to the field. The sound of my ripped cleats clacking on the cement was hard to miss.
It was an early summer morning and the air was humid. With my ball of nerves, I walked over to one of the players.
“Where do I get a helmet?”
They directed me towards the athletic trainers room. As soon as the head coach got word of “the girl”, he stormed over to me immediately.
“What is your name?”, he scolded.
I timidly responded, “Sara H.”
He snapped back, “Okay, Sara. We have been doing conditioning for almost a week. Where have you been?”
After regaining my confidence, I said, “I was out of town. I had my sister email one of the coaches that I was coming out for practice. I play travel soccer and I would like to be a kicker for the freshmen team. My sister, Sydney, kicks on the varsity and someday I would like that opportunity as well.”
He sighed, and said, “I am going to give you the same talk I gave Olivia three years ago. Football is a dangerous sport. There is a chance you could get tackled. During the school year, you won’t have to attend every practice but will be expected to give full effort. Good luck.”
While the boys didn’t say anything, the piercing looks they gave said it all. Their looks ranged from outraged to confused or even impressed. The warm up was short but if anyone messed up, we all had to do down ups. So having twenty-four teenage boys told to follow directions for five minutes, as you would imagine, we did tons of downups. The drills we did mostly contained hitting. Therefore, I stood in the blazing heat and watched.
Slow but steady, I paced down to the other end of the football field. I didn’t even know what way the bright orange tee was supposed to face. The coaches had all assumed that I knew how to kick. I was too embarrassed to let them down so I just decided to just wing it. After I placed the ruff leather ball on the tee, I took three steps back and two to the left as my sister encouraged. I proceeded to kick the ball. Instantly, pain shot through my right toe. The tee had gone soaring. The ball rolled into the soccer net. Shock and still ringing with pain, I hobbled over to grab the ball and the tee. In the near distance, I could see a boy walking over. He introduced himself as Justin Knapp, a kicker and field player on the freshmen team. He started smirking as soon as I put down the tee.
“The tee is facing the wrong way. Have you ever even kicked before?” he snarkily stated.
Shyly, I responded, “No, but I play travel soccer.” After a five minute lecture on how to kick, I was ready. I focused on the ball and kicked straight through. While the sweat dripped down my face, I saw the football go soaring through the field goals. Suddenly, I felt like I was floating because all of my stress and insecurities had been lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t going to disappoint my family, which meant the world to me. My mind raced between happiness and surprise. My insides leaped with joy. All I wanted to do was keep kicking and I did.
After what seemed like minutes, practice was over. I walked with my head up proud rather than slouched and eyes facing down as I walked over to the sidelines. That day I left the field with a sense of pride that can never be taken away.