Girl in shoulder pads is set to crash a Texas barrier

August 15, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

EL PASO, Texas -- Her football spikes are two sizes too large, her pants sag at the thighs, and her helmet gives her fits when it digs into her pierced ears.

But Denise Medina, wide receiver, has quickly absorbed an important rule of Texas high school foot- ball:

Wear the waterproof mascara.

"The first practice, I just had on plain old regular mascara, and I started sweating," she said. "The mascara started to run into my eyes and it stung. I went home and told my mom, "Please, get me the waterproof mascara."

Such is a hard lesson of athletic life for Denise, the Ysleta High School senior most likely to become the first girl sanctioned to play high school football in Texas.

For her Sweet 16th birthday party last fall, she wore a pink and white satin gown with high heels. For her 17th birthday, she hopes to be dressed in the burgundy and white football colors of Ysleta, the school with the motto: "Once an Indian, always an Indian."

Denise has sacrificed much for the sport she has grown to love.

She lifted weights all spring and early summer, ran sprints, even cut her long brown hair 5 inches to her shoulders, so that for the first time in her life she was no longer the mirror image of her twin sister, Yvonne.

"I don't want to be known as the girl player," Denise said. "I just want to be known as a player."

But that's not likely to happen.

This is Texas, after all, where high school football is a religion and the faithful congregate every Friday night under the lights, filling stadiums in the tiny towns and the big cities.

Texas high school football is Port Neches Grove playing six playoff games in front of an average of 40,000 fans.

It's Odessa Permian building AstroTurf fields and state-of-the-art weight rooms and enduring scandals great and small, all in pursuit of victory.

And it's an obsession so great in a state so vast that they crown not just one, but two champions in the biggest school classification of them all -- 5A.

"It's kind of a man thing, a macho thing," said Dr. Bill Farney, head of the state's athletic ruling body, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Denise hears it all the time -- that football just isn't a place for girls. It makes her mad. Real mad.

'Sexist remark'

"I think it's a sexist remark," she said. "It's like saying a lady should be in the kitchen. Everyone should have equal rights. Girls should be able to go out for the football team."

But for generations, the roles of the sexes on the Texas gridiron have been set like goal posts in concrete.

Boys play.

Girls cheer.

The mold was broken only once before, when a 118-pound guard named Frankie Groves appeared for Stinnett High School in the final Friday night game of the 1947 season.

The following Monday, the state banned girls from the football field.

But all that changed in February, when the UIL joined more than 40 other states by opening football to all high school students, regardless of gender.

It was an inevitable step, since girls have played football at Texas middle schools for the last six years.

The way fans and coaches reacted to the ruling, however, you would have thought officials had proposed giving back the Alamo.

"Every coach in the state thinks girls shouldn't play. And 99.9 percent of the parents agree," said Bob McQueen, coach of Temple High School, a 5A state champion. "But I wonder what kind of parent would allow their daughter to participate in full-contact football with a bunch of boys?"

Even Frankie Groves Wood, now a 62-year-old grandmother, says that modern-day football is no place for a modern-day girl.

"I just can't see it," she said. "You know, some of the old boys, now, they weigh 250 pounds."

100 girls nationwide

In the 1991 season, fewer than 100 girls joined 912,845 boys playing football nationwide, according to the National Federation State High School Associations.

Only four girls, thus far, have been accounted for on Texas teams.

And only Denise, the lone senior, is even eligible to play on the varsity.

"I think it's highly unlikely, given the caliber of play in Texas, that many girls will make it [in football], and that they will likely not like the nature of the game," Dr. Farney said. "That's not a gender statement. Most of our boys don't want to play it either."

But Dr. Farney has never met a player like Denise.

"A lot of people think I'm playing to prove a point," she said. "But that's not the reason. I want this for my own satisfaction."

She was cut from the cheerleading squad.

So she tried out for the football team.

This is football at the border. Mexico is a half-mile away. Dallas is in another time zone.

The 45 players on the Ysleta High School team slog through drills on a morning so hot it feels as if someone is holding a giant magnifying glass over the grass field.

The team, drawn from a predominantly low-income Hispanic school population of 2,200, is determined to purge an 0-10 record from 1992.

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