If you happen to catch the Fairview Middle School Falcons on the football field this season, you may have noticed a long ponytail protruding from the back of one of the junior varsity helmets.
It belongs to Caylee Anne Ray.
Ray is a 12-year-old seventh grader at Fairview Middle who happens to enjoy the game of the football — and not just watching it from the sidelines. She plays three positions for the Falcons: linebacker, tight end and special teams.
After running track and cross country, Ray said she was inspired to try football after competing in wrestling for one season.
“When I did wrestling with the boys, it gave me the strength and courage to try football because of the challenge it presented,” Ray said.
She recalled the reactions she received when she announced her plans to play football.
“The girls were excited for me, but the boys were questioning if I could take on this challenge.”
As it turned out, Fairview Middle School head football coach Ron King said, “Caylee is hard-working and dedicated to getting better every single practice. She is tough and resilient. She is extremely fast and aggressive and is one of the most physical players on the JV team.”
While Ray has proven she is willing to tackle the game of football, she admits she had to overcome some hurdles as a female.
“At the beginning, I had some of the boys making comments about me wanting to play,” Ray said. “But now, they cheer me on because when I play, I play full out.”
She recalled the first day of practice: “A couple of the boys ask me if I was going to be the water girl. But once we started practice, they realized I was there to be one of them — and I think I am a Falcon.”
When asked what is different for her compared to the other players, Ray responded, “Absolutely nothing — except the locker room.”
She said her best moments this season have been “getting to actually hit and tackle some of the strongest and best boys on the team.”
For Ray, that proves the coaches and the boys have accepted her as one of the team players.
As for advice to other girls who might be interested in playing football, Ray said, “I would tell them to not let anything or anyone stand in their way and to chase their dreams. Just show up and show out in everything that you wish to accomplish in life.”
Wearing the No. 18 Falcon jersey, Ray is in her first season playing football — but she sees a future in the sport. When asked about possibly playing at the high school level, she said she is very interested in playing more football.
She knows there will be challenges but plans to tackle them as they come her way.