As more and more women enter typically male dominated fields the issue of men and women not playing sports alongside each other because evident. Typically there are male only teams and female only teams and even entire leagues for women only such as the WNBA. Today women’s only teams have a huge following. Millions watched the United States women’s soccer team compete in the World Cup and the Women’s Canadian olympic hockey team has won four consecutive gold medals. But recently one teenage girl blurred the lines and broke a major barrier when it comes to women in the world of sports.
Becca Longo is a typical teenager from California starting college this fall. But there is one thing about her that will set her apart from other girls attending school . She is the only girl on the football team. This 18 year-old made headlines earlier this year when she accepted her offer to in Colorado, she became the first female to ever receive a football scholarship to a Division I or II school. There have only been around 12 other female football players that made it on college teams in the past. Liz Heaston played on Willamette University’s team in 1997 where she became the first female to score points in a college football game and Katie Hnida remains the only woman to score in a Division I-A game in New Mexico in 2003.
But Becca does not view herself as any different from her teammates and neither does her coach. Becca’s future coach, Timm Rosenbach, said, “If you can play football and you have determination, I don’t care what your gender is.”Becca’s accomplishment marks the sign of a bright future for women in sports. With more and more women entering the world of sports It is not that hard to imagine a female NFL player in the near future.
Determined from the start
Even as a baby, Becca proved herself to be extremely determined. Her parents recall many incidents when Becca climbed down from her crib and stole her mother’s glasses from her nightstand. She would carry them downstairs and return to her room without being caught. Eventually her parents caught on and came up with solution of gently tying her leg to her crib. However their plan did not work as Becca figured out a way to break out of her crib only two days later.
“She’s a pistol”
Her father describes this story as the time realized just how determined his daughter was. In his own words, “she’s a pistol.” As a little girl, Becca was captivated by football. She regularly attended her older brother’s football games. Bobby, who played defensive at his high school was her hero and she never missed any of him games. The two would often spend time together playing catch in their backyard.
Heidi Garrett was her hero
Becca’s other hero was her brother’s teammate, Heidi Garrett. In 2004, Becca was in the bleachers with her family at one of her brother’s games when Garrett made a field goal that was 48 yards. To this day Garrett is still holds the title for longest goal made by a woman at the national level. Becca was mesmerized by Garrett and could not stop looking at her during the end of season party that was held for the players.
Dad gave his support
Since that moment on, Becca became completely obsessed with football. Her father Bob was also captivated by Heidi Garrett but not for the same reason as Becca. Bob saw Heidi with her father practicing together on multiple occasions. He was amazed by how much support Heidi’s father showed her and how much he encouraged her to play football. Bob also noticed that Heidi’s father, her gender did not matter and he knew she was just as capable as any male player.
A challenge led her to football
Bob said that he, “always envied them” and their close father-daughter relationship. He wanted to have a close bond with Becca and after encouraging her to pursue her dreams of playing sports, he did. When she was nine years-old, Becca started playing soccer and later on she played basketball. She did not start playing football until she realized just how talented she was in 2014 after she was challenged by a male student at school.
Playing with the boys
One day by chance Becca looked out of the window of high school, Queen Creek High, and saw a bunch of freshman boys playing football. Becca decided she wanted to join and her determination kicked in immediately. She approached the boys and asked to join in. She was put on the spot when one of them challenged her. If he had any doubts about her sports skills, they soon vanished after she kicked the ball into the air and sent it flying across the field.
She wanted to be a kicker
Both the boys and Becca were shocked at what she had just done. At that moment Becca knew she had a talent for football and later that day she told her father she wanted to be a kicker. Her father supported her as he done with every sport in the past and a week after, Becca was on her way to a training camp that an NFL team was hosting. At the camp, Becca caught the attention of many former NFL team members as well as coach Alex Zendejas.
Dad approached coach Zendejas
Bob approached Zendejas and inquired if we would be willing to coach Becca. Zendejas could see how determined Becca was and he agreed on one condition. “I need to work her out.” “My first impression was that she was athletic and strong and tall,” Zendejas said of the first time he met Becca. Zendejas, who is the coach of 7 All-State kickers worked hard along with Bob to coach Becca into a football superstar.
She was a natural
In their first practice Zendejas asked Becca if she really wanted to put in the effort to become a great kicker. Without hesitation Becca responded, “I’m strong-willed; trust me, this is something I’m going to stick with.” Zendejas had Becca start by doing kicking motions without hitting an actual ball. He immediately noticed that Becca had a natural talent and said, “Wow, look at that swing. Her leg goes so high and she’s got natural flexibility. We may have something here.”
Her dream come true
After her training began Becca approached the director of athletics at school, Paul Reynolds. She came into his office and told him, “I want to play football. I want to kick.” She asked to join the school’s junior varsity team. He agreed and Becca began playing shortly after. Becca’s dream of playing football had finally been realized. Now little girls were coming up to her for autographs and pictures and idolizing her just like she had idolized Heidi Garrett almost a decade earlier.
Her teammates embraced her
Becca then transferred from Queen Creek to Basha High where she also made the football team. If Becca was ever worried about how her male teammates would react to her, she did not need to be. Her gender did not matter to her teammates and they supported her the same as they would support any male player. Basha’s head coach Gerald Todd said, “The players embraced Becca from the first day of practice because they saw two things: one, she’s good; and two, she’s an athlete.”
Recuiters took notice
As Becca progressed in her school football career, recruiters started to take notice of her skills. Becca set her sights toward college football. She made a video of her football highlights and reached out to a number of schools. Becca contacted the coach at Adams-StateUniversity, Timm Rosenbach. Bob Longo began to do research into the coaches at Adams-State University. Understandably, Bob wanted Becca’s future coaches to be able to relate to her unusual circumstances. “I wanted her to be coached by someone who had daughters,” Bob said. “Coach Rosenbach has two great daughters. That sold me.”
Impressed by her tryout
She went with her family to Colorado for a tryout in February of 2017. Josh Blankenship who is the offensive coordinator said he had heard of Becca, “because of the simple fact that she was a girl playing football.” He said of Becca’s try out, “our special teams coordinator thought she was extremely consistent and had a surprisingly strong leg. Her only flaw was that she was a little slow on her steps, but that’s the most easily correctable thing for a kicker.”
Her jaw dropped
To the shock of many, including Becca, she became the first female football player to ever receive a scholarship at the Division II level to an NCAA school. Becca told CNN that when she found out she got the scholarship she could not believe it. “Everybody who has it on video said my jaw dropped to the floor.” Coach Rosenbach told CNN, “she has mental toughness… she deserves an opportunity right there to compete.”
Meeting her new teammates
Becca happily accepted the scholarship and returned to the university two months later to watch the team play. When the game was over, coach Rosenbach took the opportunity to introduce Becca to her future teammates. “Becca is a football player. That’s it,” Rosenbach said to the players. “You will treat her like any other teammate and welcome her onto our team.” The players were very supportive and they all exchanged smiles and handshakes with Becca.
Unfortunately not everyone was as supportive as her future teammates. Although most public reaction to Becca receiving the scholarship was positive, there were also many misogynist comments and tweets directed at her. One of the nasty tweets read, “This is nothing more than a PR move to pander to feminists and make it seem like they’re ‘progressive’ for letting a girl play. What a joke.” Another tweet read, “Lol! Just what we need. Women in a men’s game,”
Turning negativity into motivation
In an interview with ‘Last Word on College Football’ Becca disregarded the negativity stating, “There is a lot of negativity, that’s for sure, but the good always outweighs the bad. There are so many more positive people than negative.” Becca’s determination came through once again as the negative comments pushed her to work harder. “I always have a smile on my face, and that is how I get through it, just smile and brush it off. It also motivates me to do better,” she said.
Some sports fans and trolls may have a problem with her gender but her coach teammates are very supportive and do not treat her differently. And Becca made it her business to ensure she was treated the same in every way. An ESPN report stated that Rosenbach would address his team as “guys… and a girl.” Becca responded by saying, “Coach, you don’t have to say girl.” Becca did not want to be singled out, she just wanted to be a part of her team.
She came so far
The amount of success that Becca has had in such a short amount of time is impressive. For someone who only started playing football in 2014 she has come such a long way. She is still training and working hard to make sure she is constantly improving as a player. Becca intends on starting school in the fall and her parents even bought an RV so that they can travel around the country and watch their little girl play.
Although Becca does not want to be different from any of her teammates, she still understands that many young girls look up to her as a role model. She often sees young girls wearing her jersey and she hopes that she can inspire more girls to play football. In an interview she explained, “I just want them to go out there and do what they love. I don’t want them to have to worry about what everyone else thinks.”