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  • Writer's pictureRachel Lout

An All-American Girl: Portrait of a Footballer

This is my second feature in my portrait series 100 Years Strong. Commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, this series of portraits is a celebration of strength, victory and beauty featuring fierce, fearless women in Deep East Texas. #100YEARSSTRONG

Across East Texas, Friday night lights and the boys of fall still reign supreme. In a world where girls are told they can do anything and be anything, football remains a male-dominated sport, from the pee-wee leagues all the way to the NFL. If a girl wants to play football, she has to go out for the boys' team. While there's not guarantee that she'll make the team, Title IX guarantees that every sport offered to only boys has to allow girls a fair shot at at tryouts.

Title IX was established in 1972 to provide everyone with equal access to any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, including sports. This means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities. Title IX states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The National Federation of State High School Associates (NFHS) publishes an annual survey about participation in high school sports. According to their data, more girls are playing on boys football teams than ever before. For the 2018-2019 school year 2,404 girls played 11-man tackle football on boys teams at the high school level. That’s more than has ever been recorded in the NFHSA’s history. A little over one million high school students played 11-man football in the 2018-2019 level, so girls only made up 0.2% of participants. Girls played at 1,918 different schools, which means that they also usually played as the only girl on the field.

Given how few girls play football, I was excited to meet Heaven Cain to photograph her for my series.

Heaven is a 13-year-old seventh grader currently attending Hubbard Middle School in Tyler, TX where she plays for the Huskies football team. Heaven told me that about 3 years ago she became obsessed with football and when the opportunity arose to try out for the team in 7th grade she took it. She told me she is first girl to play on her school's football team; others have started out but they only made it through a couple of practices. This fall she has been playing defense as a starting inside linebacker and offense as a 2nd string running back.

Here's a little more about Heaven and what playing football has been like for her.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote? I don't know about a quote, but a verse that motivates me is Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through him who gives me strength.

Why football? I don’t know the exact reason I just really like it, but one of the reasons is because I just want to prove the strength of women and show that we can do anything if we set our minds to it

Do you play any other sports? No, I do not play any other sports

When did you start playing football? This is the first time ever playing on a real team.

What did your friends and family think? They were VERY supportive!

Was there any push-back or obstacles to getting on the team? No it was as easy as can be!

Are you worried about getting injured? A little but I know how to keep myself safe and protected.

Please share your best moment from playing this season. My first touchdown, I would say it felt like a movie scene, unreal, it felt like I had just had the best dream of my life and I was about to wake up. My first touchdown made me feel like I was actually a part of the team, it made me feel like I fit in and that for one moment I wasn’t a girl on the football team that I was just like the guys. It was a very special moment for me!

What has football taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally? It has taught me so much mentally and physically, I have grown so much and have learned to push my limits even when I feel like I can’t.

Who are your role models and why? I would have to say my step dad Ben because he does so much for me and pushes himself past his limits 24/7 for me and without him I wouldn’t know anything about football!

What advice do you have for other girls who want to play football? Work hard and be brave and like I said push yourself past your limits because you never know how far y’all go!

I am looking for more fierce, fearless women to participate in this portrait study. If you or someone you know would be interested in sharing your story, please contact me. You can learn more about my project here -

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