This fall, six female high school student-athletes competed in varsity football for public high schools on Long Island, N.Y. — and two of them played contact positions, including cornerback.
“I think a lot of girls are seeing not only women in football but women in all of kinds of male-dominated fields and just gaining a lot more confidence and knowing that they can do it,” Bay Shore High School linebacker Cayleigh Kunnmann, a senior, told Newsday.
The newspaper reports that “female athlete participation in football as measured by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association has increased by nearly four times in the last year and far outstrips the numbers from 10 years ago.”
Nearly 270 girls are participating in some level of high school football in New York, according to a survey conducted by the association. That amounts to one girl for every 179 boys, according to Newsday, which added that the association did not state whether most of the girls were kickers (a common position) or played other positions. By comparison, 71 girls played the sport in 2016.
New York is not alone in this uprising of female players. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, which publishes annual participation data, 2,017 girls from 665 schools throughout the country participated in 11-player football in 2016. That figure has climbed for the past three years; the count was only at 1,249 girls in 2009. Even more surprising? This is happening as overall numbers in 11-player football decline for a variety of reasons — including concerns about concussions and a lack of interest. According to the NFHS, 2016’s total number of 1,059,399 players was down almost 26,000 from 2015.
There are obvious concerns about the physical safety of girls playing a contact sport with often much-larger boys. But organizers of football tournaments might now need to ensure there are adequate locker room facilities available in case any of the teams have females on their rosters.
“They have their own dressing room,” T.J. Daniel, head football coach at Cannon County High School in Woodbury, Tenn., a state in which the number of female players has slowly increased over the past few years, told The Tennessean. “We haven’t had to make any big changes because we have room in our field house.”
But changes may have to come, whether programs are ready or not. In April, Becca Longo became the first woman to sign to play football at a DII university. Longo wasn’t the first woman nationwide to sign with a football team; in fact, several had gone before her. In 2017l Ashley Martin kicked for Jacksonville State University. In 2014, Indiana’s Shelby Osborne signed with an NAIA school. And according to ABC News, other women have suited up in Division I games without playing. Kathy Klop dressed for the University of Louiville in 1995, and Katie Hnida for Colorado University in 1999. Neither woman played. In 1997. Liz Heaston kicked two extra points for then-NAIA Division III Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
The times, they are a-changin’.