By: Samantha Silva
A princess is usually found in a castle or a fairy tale, not on a football field, but at Roosevelt High School, 14-year-old Princess Aguilar is changing the rules of the game.
Aguilar, an incoming sophomore, is one of three female football players expected to play on the team this fall. She is the only girl in a family with four boys and says playing football is a family tradition.
“I grew up with boys. All my family are boys, so they’ve taught me,” she says. “My brother played, so I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
High school football, a sport played primarily by boys, is now attracting an increasing number of girls. According to a 2014-2015 survey, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that 1,565 football players were girls compared with 30 years ago, when there were 34.
Three girls are currently on the Roosevelt team. Kimberly Espinoza, 15, one of Aguilar’s teammates, says she joined because of the thrill of playing against boys. “It’s a competitive and aggressive sport, and I like it,” she said.
The girls train alongside the boys on the field and in the weight room. “Actually, in the weight room, two girls we have now are stronger than some of our guys,” says Saul Jimenez, an assistant varsity coach.
Coraima Martinez, 15, is a returning player this year. She began playing after she attended the traditional “Red and Gold Game” held early in the school year.
Martinez doesn’t seem to be intimidated by fellow teammates. “I got hit so hard by one of the varsity guys one time it looked like I got the soul sucked outta me, so it’s happened,” she says. “It’s tackle football. You get hit.”
One thing the girls all seem to have in common, aside from love of football, is their parents’ hesitancy about them playing.
“I went behind my dad’s back for three weeks until my first game,” Martinez says. “My dad doesn’t like it, but he has to deal with it. My mom and grandma just want me to be safe,” she says.
But most of the reactions they get from coaches and friends are supportive.
“I think that they should continue playing no matter what, even if they get hit or discriminated [against] for being females. It just shows how confident and how strong their female power is,’’ says Gerardo Maravillas, a 16-year-old Roosevelt teammate.
Carlos Nuñez, 17, is a defensive end for Roosevelt’s rival, Garfield High School. The Bulldogs also have a girl on their team, but he doesn’t understand why girls want to play.
“I honestly think that girls shouldn’t play football, but they have every right to do so,” he says. He says they are always underestimated because they are females. Plus he doesn’t think there’s much point for them to play because there’s no future in it. “I just think girls don’t have much chance to make it big,” he says.
Nuñez is right about the lack of opportunities for girls. There are not a lot of places for them to continue their football careers. There is the Legends Football League, previously called the Lingerie League, which was founded in 2009 and is played 7-on-7 tackle by females wearing lingerie.
The Independent Women’s Football League, the Women’s Football Alliance and United States Women’s Football League are among the few other leagues where women can play. But women on these teams generally have to pay a fee to play and receive no compensation.
Although the National Football League had its first female, Lauren Silberman, try out for kicker in 2013, she didn’t get the position.
Last year, a woman made history at Jacksonville State University as the first woman to play and score in a Division 1 football game. She played on the college’s soccer team and was selected as the football team’s kicker based on her kicking talents.
While the Title IX law, enacted in 1972, was intended to provide women with equal opportunities in high school and college athletics, women are still significantly underrepresented in team sports. Female athletes receive 63,000 fewer opportunities at NCAA-affiliated Institutions than males, according to the Woman’s Sports Foundation. Women also earn $183 million less in NCAA scholarships than men.
For many high school girls, it’s just the love of the sport that keeps them playing.
“I know that girls don’t play college football, and, for now, I’m okay with that,” said Martinez. “I just wanna enjoy what I have in high school, I never expected or expect it to go beyond that”.
Coach Jimenez expects more girls this upcoming season and believes they are paving the way for others.
“These girls are setting a new trend. There is going to be other girls watching who don’t want to be softball players, soccer players or cheerleaders, and they’re going to see these girls,” says Jimenez.
The three girls on the Roosevelt team plan to keep playing and won’t let others crush their dreams of playing a male-dominated sport.
“Some people put us down because they think obviously it’s a guy sport, but honestly, I don’t care what they say. I think anyone can play,” says Aguilar.
Photo above: courtesy of Roraima Martínez
Samantha Silva is a senior at Roosevelt High and a student journalist with Boyle Heights Beat.