By BEN FIELDS / The Herald-Dispatch
CHESAPEAKE, Ohio — When Nos. 18 and 20 were warming up and stretching for Chesapeake High School’s football clash with rival Fairland on Oct. 5, they received everything from cat-calls to jeers to invitations to the Homecoming dance.
That’s because those aren’t bad mullets trailing out from beneath the backs of their helmets. They’re pony tails.
Chesapeake has two girls on its squad this year, seniors Kierra Kerns and Jackie Nelson. Both are kickers for the Pa nt hers .
It’s not unprecedented, but, for the region, it’s rare, and no one has let the Panthers forget about it, especially during a season where Chesapeake has to play every game on the road while their home stadium is being renovated.
“I don’t think anyone can say they’ve experienced the reactions we get when people find out we’re girls,” Kerns said with a bit of a laugh.
“If we had a dollar for everyone that has pointed out we’ve got girls on the team, we’d be pretty rich,” Nelson added.
After eight games, it doesn’t really get to them anymore. And not every team’s fans have been unkind.
“There’s only two that I can think of, and I won’t mention them by name, but they kind of got on them,” Panthers head coach Andy Clark said. “I don’t think it was because they were girls, I think it was just another way of trying to insult Chesapeake.” Clark said he doesn’t dress a player if he doesn’t think he or she can play, and the girls had to earn their way onto the team just like anyone else.
Both have seen game action this year, with Nelson hitting an extra point. Kerns’ only attempt on the season was blocked, though Clark was quick to point out it wasn’t the kicker’s fault.
“I don’t know what happened there,” Kerns said. “I was just focused on the ball.” Clark said his special teams coach was contacted by the two girls and a freshman boys soccer player, Wesley Stephens, after two extra points bounced off the cross-bar in a pre-season scri m mage.
“We knew the football team didn’t have a kicker,” Nelson said. “And Kierra and I talked about it before and thought it would be cool our senior year, our last year in high school, to try out for the football team. It’s a guys’ sport, and we felt like it needed a couple of girls.” Clark said Kerns, Nelson and Stephens came out the next week and kicked for the coaches, performing admirably.
“I had never had girls on my team before, and my only real concern was their safety, because they weren’t football players, they were soccer players. (Stephens) didn’t have any football experience, either” Clark said. “I told them I’d let them come out and try it again with pads on and everybody around, so there was a little bit of pressure, and they did a good job. So I said I’m not just going to keep one of you, I’m going to keep all three.” Stephens has seen the majority of the action so far this season kicking for the Pa nt hers .
Clark said he didn’t promise anyone playing time, and has gone with the kicker who has been the most consistent in practice on game night.
Logistically, things haven’t been a problem. The girls have a separate dressing area at whatever visiting locker room they’re in that week, and they come into the locker room with the rest of the team at halftime.
Kerns and Nelson are ready to go in whenever their number is called, and said they wouldn’t go back and change anything.
“It’s been the best experience, I think,” Nelson said. “How many girls can say they were out there on the football team with the guys? And the guys have been really cool about it. They’re great. They’ve always cheered us on.
“I can’t think of a better football team to be on.”