‘Like one of the guys’

Published 10:21 pm Thursday, October 26, 2017

New Richland senior, junior girls play football for Panthers

NEW RICHLAND — Jamie McShane always wanted to play football, she just didn’t think girls were allowed.

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Hailey Westrum had never given the idea of playing football much thought.

Now, the two girls are on NRHEG’s varsity football team, looking to keep making waves in the playoffs as the Panthers continue their postseason run against Maple River on Saturday.

McShane, a senior lineman for the Panthers, decided to go out for the football team in her freshman year. Westrum, a junior, tried out for the team this season after it was suggested by Dan Stork — a NRHEG gym teacher and head coach of the varsity football team. Westrum, who has played summer club soccer for nine seasons, said Stork mentioned trying out to her after he saw how strong of a kicker she was in gym class.

In general, both McShane and Westrum said they’ve gotten positive feedback from their family, friends, teammates and the community about being the two lone girls on the varsity team. McShane said initially her family and friends were surprised, as football is seen by many as a very male-dominated sport. Westrum said her family was excited from the start, and that her mother even got her a kicking wizard machine for her birthday so she could practice her kicking at home.

When McShane first started trying out and practicing with the team, she said her fellow players seemed to wonder why she was there at first. After a while, though, her teammates got used to her presence.

“We’ve only become closer ever since,” she said.

Westrum said most of the team wasn’t aware she could kick until she first started with the team, and was initiated in a way after her teammates rushed a fence, banging on it to make plenty of noise as she was practicing to make sure she could handle the pressure of being the team’s kicker. Once she made her first attempt in practice, Westrum felt accepted by the rest of the team.

McShane doesn’t get to play every game, but has played on the line a number of times for the Panthers. Westrum kicks the team’s extra point and field goal attempts each game, as well as its onside kicks. She’s still working on her long-distance kicks for punting.

When asked what their favorite part of playing football is?

“Being on the line and in the trenches, just being in the middle of everything,” McShane said.

Both New Richland natives, McShane and Wetstrum said the support they’ve gotten from the community and their teammates has made the experience worthwhile, as well.

“Even though we’re girls, they treat us like one of the guys,” Westrum said.

What little negative feedback the girls have experienced has typically been from opposing teams they’ve faced on the field. McShane said she has noticed a few teams who don’t like the idea of girls playing, while others couldn’t care less — they just want to play football. Westrum said she has heard of other girls who play football getting left out of end-of-game handshakes or high-fives from opposing teams, but hasn’t experienced too much negativity herself.

“I think most people are starting to accept that girls can play football, too,” Westrum said.

In addition to playing soccer in a summer league and football for the Panthers, Westrum, 16, is a cheerleader for NRHEG winter sports and in competitions. She’s not sure what her college plans are just yet, but knows she wants to attend a four-year college and would probably like to continue cheerleading.

McShane, 17, wants to be a tattoo artist after she graduates. Both she and Westrum both said they’d like to continue with football after finishing high school, either through intramural or club leagues.

For other girls like themselves who like football but are hesitant to go out for a team, both McShane and Westrum offered words of encouragement.

“Just go for it,” McShane said. “Do it for you, not for someone else. Don’t doubt yourself.”

“If you want to do something, just do it,” Westrum added. “You’re only in high school once. Just have fun.”

About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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