Tega Cay trio a sight on the gridiron

John Marks, The Herald

Gold Hill Middle School football players from left, Lennox London, Hannah Casey and Emma Marchan. (Photo by Stephanie Marks Martell)

That football team you half recall, the one with a girl lost deep down the roster? The seventh string punter, maybe?

It isn’t Gold Hill Middle School.

The Bulldogs have three girls. And don’t dare ask about special teams. The only thing they’re looking to kick is a little opponent hind end.

“We all love tackling,” said Hannah Casey, an outside linebacker on the seventh grade squad. “We’re not kickers, any of that stuff. We like to hit.”

They do it well, too. Heading into their bowl game Oct. 26 none have started a game, but all see the field. Lennox London as central to the defensive action as a player can be, at middle linebacker. Emma Marchan plays outside linebacker and safety.

Positions assigned to three girls who never played tackle football before this season.

“None of them,” said coach Ed Davis, in his fourth year at the school. “Not a one. In all honesty, from where they started to where they are, they’ve come a long way.”

Davis had several reasons not to know what to expect from this season. The recreation league in Tega Cay stopped offering tackle football this year due to injury concerns. Parents seem to hear more about concussions than downfield passing and blitz pickup. He wasn’t sure how many boys might show up for summer conditioning.

Then, three girls did.

“I’ve had a couple of girls that have played in the past,” Davis said. “Usually one (at a time).”

The girls wanted to play. The boys didn’t have a problem. A few parents did — the girls’ parents. Davis said no use worrying with it to start conditioning, and to let the girls run with the team a couple of months and see what happens.

“I said, let’s just see how we do,” Davis said.

Anyone thinking Casey would quit doesn’t know her. She has seven brothers and four sisters. A seventh grade football practice is a stroll through dandelions by comparison.

“Pretty much,” Casey said. “I go home to seven kids in the house. I just thought, why not?”

Marchan’s dad played and coached football. She has one sister, and figured if anyone would get a turn on the gridiron it may as well be her. None of the female Bulldogs knew the others planned to try out for the team.

“I showed up and I see her here,” Marchan said, pointing to, well, both of her teammates. “I love football and I just wanted to play.”

The girls stand 5’-1” or 5’-2” depending on cleats and helmet. If the game program can be forgiven for asking, they weigh from 98 to 125 pounds. With little sports background between them — there was a season of soccer and a dance class or two — the girls made an interesting site at first.

“Most guys think we don’t really play,” Marchan said. “We’re just out there to prove a point or something. It’s not about that.”

At times the girls were a little too fearless, Davis said. At times they drew unusual attention. It’s common for opposing fans to count them. Moms tend to make the biggest scenes. Not theirs, but moms of little girls in the stands.

“This one mother came out and started freaking out,” London said. “It was weird because, I didn’t know who she was.”

In some ways, three girls on a football team stick out. Football gear is bigger than gym attire, so locker rooms are different. One girl on a team can use a reconfigured closet to change. Three won’t fit.

“Logistics,” Davis said. “Locker rooms, that’s an issue.”

The girls act a little different too. They make plays just like the boys, but the bravado teammates might display gives way to encouragement for the three new “best friends.” They’re eager to learn the game, and admit what they don’t know yet.

“I had no idea how to play football,” London said. “I still don’t.”

They also celebrate big plays differently. Verbally, but hardly with anything even bordering unsportsmanlike conduct. Like the time Marchan ran gunner on the kickoff team — OK, some special teams — and met up with a player nearly twice her size.

“I just pushed him down and I felt so good afterwards,” she said.

For Davis, the most important part of of the girls playing isn’t what makes them different. It’s how teammates, boy or girl, treat one another on the field.

“That’s their teammate,” he said.

The girls hadn’t all heard of the positions they now play before the season started. The first year of middle school football, as with other sports, is a time when many students test out something new. The girls know a size, speed and physicality gap between boys and girls tends only to widen in the coming years. None of them expect to play much longer.

Instead they’ll find new sports. New ways to pass fall afternoons. Just don’t expect quiet and demure. If you do, you still don’t know them.

“We’re going to try rugby,” Casey said.

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