MS Girl Tackles Stereotypes


Kenny Hill

Wheeler goes down the line shaking hands with the OCP Lions after a well fought game on August 31.

Matthew Halpin, Staff Writer

  With five seconds to go, the Saints are down by four. The quarterback takes the snap and launches the ball deep downfield to a wide open receiver. It’s caught in the endzone for a touchdown. The receiver turns and smiles, as she’s mobbed by her teammates.

  Eighth grader Grace Wheeler plays on the middle school football team as a wide receiver and safety. She’s played flag football in the past, but this is her first year playing tackle football.

  In the first game of the season against Orlando Christian Prep, she made a stunning play. She was able to chase down the ball carrier and tackle him from behind, preventing a touchdown. While playing football on an all-boys team might be difficult, Wheeler views it as an opportunity.

  “I like football because it is very competitive, and there is a lot of tactical thinking,” Wheeler said.

  A big part of being the only girl on a boys team is fitting in, but Wheeler isn’t fazed by the challenge.

  “Sometimes it’s a little awkward like at the beginning of the season I didn’t know everyone, but I suppose I have adjusted,” Wheeler said.

  Head middle school football coach Scott Sukup has made an effort to emphasize teamwork.

  “The team has accepted her as one of their own,” Sukup said. “Grace has proven herself in practice and in our first game of the season.”

  Mental and physical strength are both necessary for a girl to be playing tackle football against all boys. Wheeler possesses both of these traits.

  “She sure took some hard hits in our first game against Orlando Christian Prep, and she got up and took some more,” Sukup said. “There is a warrior that lives inside her, and she is becoming a pretty good football player.”

  Despite her proving herself, Wheeler still faces obstacles in playing on an all-boys team. Since she has to use a different locker room, she misses out on postgame celebrations.

  “There is the time in the locker room when it’s just the team that she will never be able to experience because she is by herself,” Sukup said. “She will never get the chance to sit around with her teammates before a game or practice and laugh and joke around.”

  For the boys on the team it may be difficult to hit a girl as hard as they would another boy, but Wheeler hopes the boys don’t take it easy on her.

  “As for the team, we have to prepare for our opponents and none of them are going to take it easy on us. So don’t take it easy on your teammates,” Sukup said.

  It is no longer unusual for a girl to play football. Wheeler is the second girl to play for Trinity, but she has been fighting for a spot among the boys since she attended Park Maitland School.

  “In elementary school, she protested girls being excluded from the Park Maitland flag football team, and now girls are allowed to play on the school team,” Kelly Wheeler, Grace’s mom said

  She is a part of a movement of many girls playing male-dominated sports. According to Teen Vogue, several semi-pro women’s football leagues play across the United States.

  One player who has led the charge of girls playing tackle football is Sam Gordon, a 14-year-old phenom who went viral for her ability to not only keep up, but outplay many boys in her tackle football league. Gordon started playing tackle football with boys when she was 9 years old.

  When she was 11, she helped start the first all-girls football league for 5th and 6th graders. She even inspired the formation of the Indiana Girls Tackle Football League, according to NBC News.

  Overall, Wheeler and Gordon are leaders both on and off the field. They have the courage to do what some girls might never think of doing. Wheeler hopes to play varsity football next year. She has proven herself as a great asset to the Trinity team this season, which will hopefully inspire other girls to join this trend.