March 2, 2021
Female youth football player and Fenwick alumna drew on real-life inspiration to write a best-selling children’s book.
By Laura Enriquez ’08
I learned this lesson at the young age of 11, when I became the first female to play football for St. Mary’s of Riverside. Initially, I wanted to play because I love the sport … and really, who wouldn’t want to take out their pent-up aggression in a channeled way? But what I didn’t understand was, as the first female in the league, playing football became something much bigger.
Ms. Enriquez as a Riverside youth football trailblazer 20 years ago.
The first sign of obstacles appeared during sign-ups when the head coach pointed in the direction of the cheerleading table. What he didn’t realize, and what Fenwick would learn during my freshman year, is I would be the worst cheerleader. Just ask anyone present at my poms try-out, when I kicked up too high and fell backwards. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to day two.
I soon learned the pressure of being “the first” at something. While there were many who supported me, there were also others who had more traditional views. These naysayers became vocal in their opposition. There was even an instance when a father approached my mom on the train and criticized her for allowing me to play.
As a female in a male-dominated sport, there were other challenges. Naturally, boys and girls are built differently, but this difference was exacerbated during my experience. For example, it was difficult to find and create appropriate protective equipment. The biggest introspective challenge I faced was how I began to perceive my body. I wanted to be a running back, so I could feel the ball and know the glory of scoring a touchdown. But, I became a lineman who are generally known as the “bigger guys” and equivalent to playing right field in T-ball, or so I thought. And then there were challenges that every athlete faces: balancing friends and sports, getting homework done, and caring for your physical being.
While playing, I worked harder than I’d ever worked before. There were many times I thought about giving up, but I knew I could not. When you are the only female surrounded by males, there’s added pressure to not just do well, but be the best. I accepted this as a challenge and spent the season proving my worth so that my experience could open up doors for other females in the future.
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