This year, the Seymour Area Youth Football League had two girls take the gridiron for eight weeks to play with the boys.
Evah Snyder, 8, of Seymour played on coach Jason Fowler’s third/fourth-grade purple team.
She was raised an Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning fan and like many has followed him during his career.
During Week 1 of youth football, she was pleasantly surprised when given the No. 18 jersey. Unfortunately, that might have been the high point in her first few days on the team.
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She was nervous to tell her girlfriends at school that she would be playing. She was told by a boy on the practice field that “it’s weird” a girl would step up and play football, and it took the boys a few days to warm up to the idea.
In the meantime, she soaked in the kindness and equality presented to her from Fowler.
Youth football seems to have such a strong connection to boys, but some might forget what youth football is there to provide.
“I like to compete, and I made new friends,” Evah said.
That is not just a boy thing or just a girl thing. That’s a kid thing.
Safely learning new things, on and off the field, stepping out of their comfort zone, gaining social skills, teamwork, confidence, and having fun — that’s what the SAYFL aims to provide.
As far as understanding the game, she had basically the same learning curve as the boys on her team.
“She had confidence from day one,” Fowler said. “She didn’t exactly take the boys’ crap. If I told her she was going to get the ball, she didn’t back down.”
Since Evah plays basketball, swims and spends time reading, and her bedtime is 8 p.m., she misses much of the football aired on TV, so she was able to learn a lot about the fundamentals of the game and immediately apply it.
Evah hopes to pave the way for girls to follow in her size 5 footsteps.
She tried to get two other girls to play, and one ended up playing flag football.
“It is fun to tackle people, and you get to tackle people you don’t like,” she said.
As most newbies to something would say, she thought it was scary on the first day but definitely not scary anymore.
She said that football has helped her grow not only as an athlete but also as a person.
Emily Gnadinger, 12, also joined the SAYFL this fall as a member of the Rock Creek fifth/sixth-grade team.
The Sellersburg native had been waiting for this opportunity to play football since she was 4.
She credits her brother for getting her interested in the sport. It started out by watching him play, then learning some of the lingo while battling him on the Xbox.
The Rock Creek coaches spoke highly of Emily and noted how tough she is.
Her mom knew how tough she was but still asked her a few times to make sure Emily really wanted to play tackle football.
Emily said she has truly grown to love the game. In the SAYFL, she mainly played guard and saw the field in other positions both on offense and defense.
She vividly remembered her first time getting tackled and was surprised by it, but in no way did it hurt.
“I had a huge smile the first time,” she said.
She also was positively impacted by the support she quickly gained from her new friends on the team.
“One kid told me to (be quiet) and my teammate said, ‘You (be quiet) she can take you any day!’ and I just laughed.”
Emily has no intention of being a cheerleader and is with girls all day at school, so it is no surprise that talking football and tackling boys each day at practice is a breath of fresh air to her.
“Don’t be afraid to play,” Emily advises other girls. “It’s fun. Tackling is really fun.”
She also is using the multisport approach to be more athletic overall. She loves soccer, too, and is taking the quick-feet drills from football to benefit her in the upcoming soccer season.
These two girls have made leaps and bounds in their time with the SAYFL. They learned how to handle conflict. They learned the game of football, which will translate into an impressive conversation with any football fan.
They made their coaches and families proud by trying something out of the ordinary.
Parents, no matter what it is, encourage your kids to try something new.
It’s not just about the event they choose: It is about all of the intangibles they get by doing so.
Evah’s parents said, “For girls that want to try (football), seeing it done makes it easier. If you really want to do something, do it.”
As supportive as they have been, they found it very comforting throughout the season hearing nothing but positive comments about the girls that were playing.
The SAYFL coaches, board members, players and these girls’ parents would encourage other parents out there to remove the stigma that football is only for boys. Youth football offers so much more than what is portrayed on the field.
No girl should be deprived of that because they were discouraged to play a “boys’ sport,” and Evah and Emily took full advantage of the opportunity and couldn’t be happier that they did.
Michelle Shattuck is the president of the SAYFL. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.