Football field is no place for little girls, or little boys

October 06, 1991|By George Vecsey | George Vecsey,New York Times News Service

What's the big deal? That was my reaction when I heard a couple of girls were playing high school football on New York's Long Island this season. Well, maybe not playing football, but place-kicking.

Last Saturday, Jacqueline Gainer became the first female to score a point in New York state, during Valley Stream Central's 10-0 victory over East Meadow. This Saturday, Susan Price is expected to take the first kick if Central scores a touchdown at Long Beach.

The two kickers, accomplished soccer players, will not attempt field goals because they are not considered big enough, experienced enough, strong enough, mean enough, to be on the field while the ball is alive.

Maybe not, but I've been leveled by a woman on a football field, and I suspect there are more where she came from.

It happened on a hillside in Appalachia back in the early 1970s, when women's liberation was something you heard on the television out of Tri-Cities or Knoxville or Charleston.

We had Sunday dinner -- fried chicken and mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas and corn bread and iced tea -- and afterward my hosts rested on the front porch while the younger generation organized a game of two-hand touch, blocking allowed.

On the opening kickoff, I jogged downfield, laden with corn bread, a born victim for a miner's daughter named Sandy or Betty. She may even have been barefoot, I vaguely recall. She unloaded on me with both forearms, and whammo, I was rolling down the hill, like a mudslide during a 100-year rain.

She made a convert out of me. I got up smiling, and after the game I had no doubt this tough 150-pound miner's daughter could have held her own on the local high school team.

That probably was not an option in those days. More recently, the boys at Valley Stream Central let the two girls know they were not exactly welcome, either.

Still, after coach Danny Tronolone showed he was serious about letting the girls compete for place-kicker, the boys maturely made the best of the situation.

The disdain does not stem merely from the girls' being kickers, although that is part of it. Bill Parcells, the former Giants coach, always seemed galled that his brilliant game plans could depend on tiny little guys with furrin-sounding names like Raul or Ali.

Many of the boys have said the girls disrupt the camaraderie of the team. As I vaguely recall, it is not easy to be an adolescent boy under any condition.

There are times when boys want to act like boys, sniggering and elbowing each other, which they cannot do quite so freely with their shoulder pads clumping up against somebody named Jacqueline or Susan.

Sports have tended to regard women as either commodities or the ultimate opposition. It was only a couple of decades ago that a prominent high school coach cruised the Long Island streets, trying to catch his players out smoking or drinking or walking with a girl.

Girls, he believed, led to daydreaming and dressing up and wearing cologne and going to movies and writing notes and holding hands and other such inappropriate behavior. Girls robbed a young player of his desire to clobber another boy from a neighboring town.

I'm not so sure. When women first worked in the mines back in the 1970s, the men had to curtail their primary topic of conversation, but many of them conceded that the women who sought a paycheck could handle darkness, dirt, primitive sanitary conditions, cramped spaces, physical rigor, and moments of terror.

Football is different. In high school, it's a game, an activity, a ritual, not the means to support a family. Adolescent boys are generally bigger, stronger and faster than adolescent girls.

A coach should have the discretion to not allow a slight, uncoordinated girl from trying out if she could get hurt, but only if the coach could do the same for a scrawny, naive boy.

There are a million subtleties about men competing with women. I want Nancy Lieberman Cline on my side, on the basketball court or off.

There are precedents that a boy can be allowed to play with the girls if there is no male field-hockey team. But it is cruel and unusual punishment to expect a teen-age boy to wrestle a girl, even of equal weight and strength, because the sport is so intimate.

Football players are expected to remain on their feet, however, ,, and the layers of equipment tend to promote anonymity. In this great land of ours, there are women who can hit and be hit. I've had the bruises to prove it.

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