Not just a boys game

Lo­cal girls dish out hits play­ing foot­ball

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

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.

PHOTO BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COM­PASS

Am­ber Lit­tle­john (left) and Jas­mine Oliver are two fe­male foot­ball play­ers get­ting into the sport for the first time this sea­son.

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