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‘When I’m at football, I’m at home’: 2 generations of female players at BFA

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 Hazel Starr, right, with teammates (from top to bottom) Drake Remillard, Connor Sterrett & Josh Anderson

“When I’m at Football, I’m at Home”:
Two Generations of Female Players at BFA

By Rachel Ledoux, BFA St. Albans

A few weeks ago on the St. Albans community Facebook page, a member shared a story from the BFA school newspaper, the Mercury, about Hazel Starr. 

Hazel is a freshman who played on BFA’s JV football team this season. She is also a girl.

While most of the comments on the post were positive, one comment stood out.

“HS football is a dangerous contact sport. I’m not opposed to girls playing the game but I am opposed to mixing genders,” one person wrote.

“Physically, women have a huge handicap when it comes to a contact sport like Football and can be extremely dangerous for them. Therefore, I will refrain from supporting this situation, but I do wish Hazel all the luck in the world.”

Hazel came across this comment while looking at the post with her mother. While several of Hazel’s family members wanted to give the commenter a piece of their mind, Hazel wasn’t upset by it.

According to Hazel, she’s used to this sort of thing:

“People (will) say things along the lines of, ‘No, girls can’t play football.’ And (I’ll say), ‘Well, you can sit there and watch me.’”

Hazel took a screenshot of the comment and made it her cell phone’s lock screen.

“It’s like encouragement to keep doing what I’m doing,” she said.

Hazel Starr, #63, playing in a game earlier this fall.

Though football is traditionally a men’s sport, the past few years have seen a rise in female players. According to one source, the ratio of male to female players has risen from 800:1 in 2010 to 418:1 in 2019. That’s almost double the amount of female players in a decade. 

This change is present in Vermont’s high schools, too, with many young women donning football uniforms alongside their male classmates. 

Hazel has a somewhat unique experience, because she stands on the shoulders of several women who played football for BFA in the past. Including her, there have been 6 women to play football for BFA since the 1990s. Hazel is the first girl on the team in more than ten years, since the last, Kayleigh Williams, graduated in 2010.

Hazel began playing football in the summer before 7th grade, after one of her friends jokingly suggested it. She’d been playing soccer for eight years at that point, and already had an interest in contact sports like taekwondo, so she figured, why not?

She has been playing ever since.

“Football just makes life five million times better,” she said.

She played on the Steelers 7/8th grade team before starting at BFA, where she mainly played defense. Hazel has lots of positive memories of that team. 

One important game in seventh grade came right before the playoffs. According to Hazel, the team swore that referees were being paid off, because of the calls that were being made against them. Toward the end of the game, Hazel and a teammate were able to tackle the opposing team’s quarterback. That play helped the Steelers win the game and go on to Championships that year.

Now, she’s a nose guard for the Junior Varsity BFA Bobwhites team. 

One of Hazel’s coaches, Randy Clark, said that Hazel often “has the technical aspects of whatever we’re trying to teach down very quickly, which are basically the foundation for a great football player,” 

Clark said Hazel is “very well respected, and she is very respectful of the team.”

Hazel describes a deep sense of companionship with her fellow Bobwhites, whether she’s cheering them on from the sidelines or playing on the field. 

“It’s like a family,” Hazel said. “When I’m at football, I’m at home.”

One Predecessor

Sarah Coon, who played wide receiver and safety on the team from 2004-2008, is one of Hazel’s predecessors at BFA. Her experience was different.

Unlike Hazel, Coon possessed a love of football and interest in playing from an early age. She recalls a lot of happy memories watching football with her dad as a child. As she got older, Coon became more determined to play football herself.

Coon finally got her chance at 13, when her brother began playing football. She was upset that he was allowed to play and she was not, and made it known to her parents.

“They were extremely nervous for me,” Coon said. “But they eventually let me play.”

Coon, like Hazel, played for the middle school Steelers team, in the cornerback and wide receiver positions. 

Sarah Coon in 10th grade, playing JV football for BFA St. Albans, in 2005.

Coon had her growth spurt before many of the boys on the team, which made her one of the largest players. Coon said that this was reassuring to some of the adults in her life, as they believed her to be big enough to not get hurt.

Coon said that high school was when things became a bit harder for her, as many of her male teammates were now larger than she was. 

Coon describes a lot of harassment from her male teammates over the years. She says that many guys on the team were downright cruel to her because she was female. 

Coon attributes their poor behaviour to projection. According to her, many of the boys who picked on her for being a girl were smaller and less strong then some of the others, and often got bullied themselves. Coon says that they were likely just blaming her for their own poor treatment.

“It was probably a hard thing for middle and high school boys,” Coon said. “To be tackled by a girl, outrun by a girl, shown up by a girl.”

Coon said most of their harassment was verbal, calling her things like, “Stupid f—ing bitch”, “Dumb slut”, and “Dumb d*ke.” 

Coon said these slurs, along with teammates telling her she didn’t belong, were almost daily occurrences. She said that she would have reacted differently if those words were said to her now.

“I didn’t want to make a huge deal out of it and call attention to myself,” Coon said. “And [it felt] like those types of comments were ignorant, but to be expected because I was doing something out of the ordinary.”

Coon did note, however, that she had many teammates who were kind and welcoming to her during her time. She doesn’t dwell too often on her teammates’ cruel words.

Even back then Coon knew the things people told her said more about them than her.

“I learned how to stand up for myself, to not take crap,” Coon said. “I learned that the acceptance of others isn’t always the most important thing, and that’s a really important lesson to learn at that age.”

According to Sarah, there was one moment where she really felt respected by her male team members – even though she was still being treated as lesser.

An opposing team had been taunting the Bobwhites, and saying horrible things to Coon based on her gender, calling her a ‘bitch.’

That time, instead of bullying her in the way they had before, Coon’s teammates stood beside her. They responded to the taunts. 

Coon may have been a bitch, they said, but she was their bitch.

Years later, when that Facebook comment was made about Hazel Starr, Sarah Coon was the first person to defend her.

 


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VTDigger’s Underground Workshop empowers young Vermonters to engage in the public sphere as journalists, reporting and publishing for a statewide audience. The Workshop is a collaborative community, led by a team of student editors from ten of Vermont’s high schools and colleges. We gather on zoom every two weeks, with student work at the center of each meeting. Any student is welcome to attend, to pitch ideas for stories, to submit drafts for feedback, or just to listen in. Students can submit work at any time, and in a range of formats, from feature stories to news briefs and Q&A's, and we're always seeking photographs and videos for our instagram page. We are also eager to work with teachers to develop projects for their students. For more information please contact Ben Heintz, the Workshop's editor, at [email protected]

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