Not just a boys game
Local girls dish out hits playing football
When the Bay Roberts Warriors of Football Newfoundland and Labrador suited up for practices the last couple of weeks, they looked like any other gridiron squad.
They worked on passing, catching and hitting each other with a ferocity usually reserved for their opponents. As coach Brian Hughes was teaching them the finer points of the complicated game, they resembled other high school teams preparing for their version of Friday Night Lights.
However, if you looked close enough, you would have noticed some striking differences between two particular players and the rest of the group.
When they removed their helmets, you saw the feminine faces of Amber Littlejohn and Jasmine Oliver.
The Ascension Collegiate students are giving the sport their first try this winter with the Warriors program. While they will undoubtedly play different positions on the field, both Littlejohn and Oliver share the desire to get better at a sport they only just started playing.
It is something they’ve always wanted to do — get in a game and hit someone. Before moving to Clarke’s Beach, Oliver lived in Manitoba. She always wanted to test herself against her male counterparts on the football field, but never had a place to play. Even on the mainland and in a province with its own Canadian Football League team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“Girls couldn’t play with the boys and there wasn’t a girls league up there,” she said. “I was excited when I saw there was football here. I said, ‘That’s cool, I’m going to play now.’”
Littlejohn’s story is a little different.
She watches the Super Bowl every winter with her father. That coupled with the fact that her brother, her friends and her boyfriend played last season helped convince her decision to strap the pads on this year.
“I always wanted to try it and now I get the chance to,” said Littlejohn.
Two is better than one
Trying out anything new can be a daunting task for even the most outgoing young person. Maybe they’re meeting new people and trying a new sport, so there are bound to be uncomfortable moments.
What can make it easier is having someone you know there to help ease the transition.
That is what both Oliver and Littlejohn have found having a second female in the mix.
“It’s nice to have another girl playing,” said Littlejohn. “It increases the comfort level a bit.”
A pleasant surprise
The two female Bay Roberts players are the only ones in the FNL’s under-18 program. However, they aren’t the only female players in the entire program.
There are two more playing in the under-11 division, according to Hughes, who also serves as the president.
“It’s a quiet phenomenon,” said Hughes, referring to women’s football in Canada. “I know that they play … but it doesn’t get a lot of publicity.”
There are upwards to eight teams playing professionally in this country.
“When people ask how the program is going, I tell them about the communities we’re in and that we have boys and girls playing,” said Hughes. “It’s not a surprise. It is absolutely a positive.”
Make no bones about it, football is a sport of contact and testosterone. There are bone-rattling hits on every play, but it can be a good opportunity to release some frustrations.
For Oliver and Littlejohn, they both enjoy everything the game brings them, including the rough stuff.
“I really enjoy having the opportunity to hit the boys on the field,” said Oliver. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know people and having fun … and getting exercise.”
“I like hitting people,” added Littlejohn.
Amber Littlejohn (left) and Jasmine Oliver are two female football players getting into the sport for the first time this season.