Written by Sally Quinn
Malajsha Mollett was 8 when she decided to make a change from cheerleading with the Pittsburgh Kings and Queens, a free sports mentoring program, to trying out for the organization’s football team.
The move drew laughter from some of the cheerleaders and derision from football players.
“In the midst of it, it was a little bit sad because it was lightweight bullying,” says mom, Taejsha Miller, a social worker. “I told Lay, there are probably other girls out there who want to play football, too. You should tell your story.”
So Lay, short for Malajsha, put pencil to paper and created “The Football Girl,” a storybook that packs a heap of girl power between two covers.
The timing of Lay’s journey onto the field is perfect as more young women are accepting the challenge to participate in “boy” sports.
Isabella McNutt, for example, is the first female wrestler to square off against boys at Hampton Township School District. Caitlyn Callahan recently accepted a job with the Pittsburgh Pirates as the team’s first female coach. University of Pittsburgh’s athletic director, Heather Lyke, makes an impact on the collegiate level.
But despite the steps forward, scorn and mockery are frequently experienced: Consider the vulgar bullying that the Mars hockey team’s female goalkeeper was subjected to a few months ago.
Lay hopes her book might inspire and equip other girls to follow their dreams and stand strong. Published by Lemons Writing Group, “The Football Girl” is available on Amazon for $20. It’s a perfect read during Women’s History Month.
Now 10 years old and a fourth-grade honor student at Pittsburgh Dilworth, Lay continues in her athletic endeavors, adding playing basketball for the Penn Hills Indians to her interest in football and gymnastics. On National Girls and Women in Sports Day in February, Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith made a surprise visit to the school to honor Mollett and join her on stage to read the book. He even shared some pass-rushing advice.
As a local author, Lay was invited to do a reading and book signing on a Sunday afternoon in February at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
“It was really fun. There were about 25 children there,” Lay says. “I was really so proud of myself when I got the call. I was on the phone with the Children’s Museum and they just told me we should come over there. I was surprised. And once we ended the call, I was literally jumping. And my mom was smiling and saying, ‘You are really excited.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’”
Lay’s ambitions for her future include being a businesswoman and an athlete.
“Technically,” she says in her oh-so-articulate way, “I have one in my life right now.”
Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, Lay carries on the tradition as the owner of a business called Balling Bags that sells basketball purses and custom tie-dye clothing.
What’s next for this animated young lady?
“I’m working on my second book. It’s about my blended family,” says Lay, who also writes poems and raps. “I’m not really that good at pictures, but writing, I’m kind of good with that. You think of some words, put them together and, ‘Oh! That’s a sentence. We’re good.’ “