By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE October 25, 2005 It isnt until they take off their helmets that you notice something different about two of the members of the Sullivan West football team.
Mud-spattered, outfitted in pads and the Bulldogs signature silver and blue, numbers 77 and 54 look the part of a gridiron regular.
But when they take off their helmets, their long hair, piled up into the padding, falls across their feminine shoulders.
Thats right. Numbers 77 and 51 on the Bulldogs roster are girls . . . girls who play football.
Kayla Olsen and Corri Banks went out for their favorite sport more than a year ago, joining the Sullivan West modified team as eighth graders at the Jeffersonville campus.
At the end of a long season, they were exhausted from daily practices, lifting weights and keeping up with the guys.
But they were hungry for more.
This summer, they suited up for the junior varsity team knowing they were heading out on the field with guys twice their size like many schools in Sullivan County, Sullivan West pairs its JV and varsity players for practice. JV players even dress for varsity games, standing on the sidelines for the occasion when theyre called in for a play.
The first team meeting of the season Banks faced a crowd of boys alone. Olsen wasnt able to attend, and in her first year the high school campus in Lake Huntington, Banks didnt know most of the older players.
Things didnt improve when practice began.
When we went on the field, it was very scary, Olsen said. Everyone was staring at us, we knew no one.
But by a week in, they all knew us.
Now, theyre just part of the team.
They play tackle and down linemen. They run suicides. They get dirty.
I wouldnt call myself a girly girl, but I worry about what I look like, Im scared if Im dirty, Banks said. But I realized, when youre playing football, they dont really look at you.
On the field, Banks doesnt care about her hair.
Olsen doesnt worry that shes going to chip a nail.
She worries about getting enough sleep to be ready for the game the next day. Banks has to remind her mom to rearrange her schedule because theres a JV game on Friday, a varsity game on Saturday.
Youve got to build your plans around football, Olsen said.
You need to be dedicated, Banks added. You eat, breathe and sleep football when you play with [Coach Ron] Bauer.
Bauer, a coach from the old school whose been out on the football field since his days as the head of the Delaware Valley Eagles, has taken the girls presence on the team in stride.
He took us aside one day after practice and told us that he really appreciates the fact that were staying in it, Olsen recalled.
Mr. Bauers really into it, Banks added.
But that doesnt mean he plays favorites.
Hes pushed us to the limit, she said.
The same goes for their teammates. The girls said they take hits that are just as hard as the ones doled out to the other guys.
But they know they are accepted as a part of the team. Theyve made friends with their teammates, theyre invited to the team parties.
We have a lot of big brothers, Banks said with a smile. They watch out for us.
But not everyones so nice.
Members of the opposition have made comments.
Some say Yay for the girls, but some say, You have a girl on your team, how could you practice with her? Banks said. Ive gotten clipped a few times, you know, pushed in the back.
I dont know if they know I was a girl, but I think it had something to do with it.
An incident on their own team bus has the girls up in arms they were accused of improper conduct.
Their punishment required both girls sit near the front of the bus where the coaches could see them at all times. Neither is allowed to sit with a boy in their seat.
Its not like were going to have sex on the bus! Banks said.
A lot of these guys are our friends, Olsen added, we just want to sit with them and talk!
But theyve taken the comments in stride.
The same goes for accusations from other girls that theyre playing football for extra attention.
They arent going to stop playing because of something thats been said.
In two years, they said theyve gotten better at what they do, and their love of the game has only gotten stronger.
Its like a rush being out there, Olsen said.
Its not boring, Banks added.
? the girls are reluctant to encourage other girls to join the football team.
If too many of them joined, theyd make a girls football team, Banks said matter-of-factly. If they made a girls football team, I wouldnt play.
Neither would I, Olsen said.
Its just not the same, Banks explained.
They dont hit as hard, Olsen said. And theyd be like oh, I broke a nail.
Thats not to say that they wouldnt welcome a female teammate. But Olsen and Banks dont want to see someone join the team for the wrong reasons, the reasons theyve been accused of using.
If theyre not sure, they shouldnt do it, Banks said. Theres no reason to start and then quit youll be laughed at.
When Olsen considered going out for soccer instead of football this year, Banks said she would have missed her, but she wasnt going to be the girl who only played one year on the gridiron.
It would have just been a waste, she explained.
Today, the girls are looking forward to three more years of football, to earning their spot on the varsity line-up.
Olsens even made space in her schedule for AYSO soccer games so she can still play the second sport and retain her spot on the football squad.
So far theyve played in the JV games, and Bauer allowed them onto the field for just one play during the Homecoming match-up with Pine Plains.
It was only one play, but it was really cool, Banks said, her eyes lighting up.