It’s almost football time in Tennessee, and in Blount County, a team to watch is coach Tyrone Haley’s Alcoa Tornadoes Peewee Football Team for 9- and 10-year-old players. Pay particular attention to the offensive and defensive lines — you’ll see history being made as 10-year-old Jasmine Click takes the field as a starter for the team.

Haley said, “I’ve been coaching for 13 years, and out of the 13 years I’ve been coaching at Alcoa, we’ve never had a female play in any of our programs. We have a 7- and 8-year old program, 9 and 10, which is me, and 11 and 12. So this will be the first time we’ve ever had a girl. It’s unique — it’s special.”

Inspired by Hannah

Jasmine will wear No. 24 in honor of the late Hannah Tate, who inspired her to follow her dream and play football. Tate, who played basketball at Alcoa High School, died in January at age 19 after a long battle with cancer.

“She played basketball with cancer,” Jasmine said.

She said she likes playing football because “It’s fun. It’s an awesome hobby. It’s really hard and it’s very hot with a bunch of hair and a helmet.”

She described her team as “really good.”

“We don’t bully,” she said. “That’s what Coach Haley’s number one rule is — Never bully on the team. Always be supportive.”

Jamie Click, Jasmine’s mother, said Jasmine got interested in football after playing the game with her three nephews.

“She’s always outside, tossing the football and stuff like that,” Click said. “She always wanted to play, but everybody told her, ‘Girls don’t play football.’ Now that she’s older, she still wanted to play, but was still told that same thing.”

At Hannah’s memorial service, Click said Jasmine made up her mind to follow her dream. “She looked at me on our way home, and said, ‘If she can play basketball and be sick, I don’t see why I can’t play football,’” Click recalled. “I’ve always told her, ‘Through God, anything is possible. You do whatever you set your mind to.’ So therefore, I’m on the sidelines cheering on my football player!”

Jasmine’s uncle, Kenneth Click, also coaches with Haley.

“Any mother’s worry, especially for her daughter, is getting hurt going up against boys,” Jamie Click said. “But, like I told them, she couldn’t be in safer hands. I feel comfortable with her being with Coach Haley and Alcoa City Schools. It puts my mind at ease.”

Click also praised Jasmine’s teammates, including her nephews, Caleb and Tyson Click.

“They are all very supportive of her,” Click said. “They look out for her. You couldn’t ask for a better group of kids for her to play with.”

Click said watching Jasmine on the field fills her with pride. “She’s doing what she loves, and I’ve always told her, ‘No matter what, do what you love, do what makes you happy.’ Seeing her out there able to do what she loves right now just fills my heart with joy. It makes me thank God every day for my blessings.”

Earning her spot

Jasmine may be a “girl,” but on this team, she’s just “one of the boys.”

“I coach her just like she’s a guy,” Haley said. “I don’t treat her any different. We go hard at her just like we go hard on the guys.”

And she has earned her place as a starter. Haley said, “We put the person in there that’s giving us the most effort. If they are continuously doing good in practice, and doing what the coaches say, more than likely that’s the one who will end up starting on that position. … She’s doing pretty good. She’s one of our biggest linemen.

“On offense, it entails her blocking the defensive opponents so our running backs or quarterback can make a play,” the coach explained. “On defensive line, she’s actually looking for the person to tackle, whoever has the ball.”

He said he had no misgivings about having a female on the team. “I didn’t even think twice about it,” he said. “I was actually excited about it because I was wanting to see how the guys would react to a girl on the team. Our running backs and our quarterback are loving it, because she’s a big girl.”

The way Jasmine carries herself stands out to Haley.

“It’s like she’s always wanted to play football,” he said. “She’s always got a drive for it. There’s something you see in her that you just wouldn’t think a girl would have that much spunk about when it comes to football. You’d think a girl would say, ‘Well, no, that’s too physical — they hit,’ but she doesn’t let that faze her because she’s wanting to hit!”

Jasmine said, “A lot of people kind of put you down, like in school, because they say I can’t do it, really, because I’m a girl. But I just don’t listen to them because Coach Haley said, ‘Never bully, and just prove them wrong.’ That’s what I’m doing. I’m not going to let some people just bully me around.”

Open to all

According to the team’s Facebook page at Alcoa Peewee Football, “Our goal is to provide the opportunity for and to promote youth football ages 9 and 10 in Alcoa and the surrounding areas. It is also our goal to teach fundamental football skills including sportsmanship and teamwork.”

“We have a lot of school kids on that team from Alcoa, but we have some from Maryville also,” he said. “We can have up to 35 kids on the team, but we have about 30 this year.” The players don’t try out for the team. Haley said, “You just have to have enough availability spaces.”

Haley encourages other females with an interest in football to join a team.

“Some females think this is a young guy’s sport when it really isn’t. It’s open to anybody that’s willing to play,” Haley said. “I think Jasmine’s going to make a good impact on this, and it will probably bring some more girls out in the future.”

His advice to potential female players: “I’d tell them to go with their instinct. If there’s something they really want to do in life, do it. Don’t be afraid to do it at all, because you never know the outcome of it.”

And for a girl’s parents, who may be afraid football is too physical?

“At first I’d ask them, what other sports do (the girls) play? Because if they play basketball, that’s a physical sport also. It’s not as hard as football, but it’s a lot of pushing and tugging down in basketball also,” he said. “So if they’ve got that type of mentality already in basketball, then they are going to carry the same mentality over in football.”

The team will be scrimmaging the West Rebels on Tuesday, Aug. 9, during the Night of the Champions at Alcoa High School.