Lilly Hadley had always wanted to join the football team. It wasn’t just a spur of the moment decision, it had been a dream of hers for several years. Unfortunately, gymnastics happening during the same season prevented her from playing both. Before Hadley’s senior year, she made the decision to join the football team instead of returning to gymnastics for one final year. However, a silver lining of this crazy, pandemic-affected year is that the fall sports season was split into two separate seasons. Hadley didn’t have to choose. She got to complete her high school gymnastics journey in the fall, and now her football journey is officially underway.
Joining the football team as a girl isn’t as simple as one may expect. Hadley had to get signatures by several parents and teachers within the district, complete a series of fitness tests, and even receive official approval from the school board. Luckily, she had support along the way.
“The coaching staff was very welcoming and provided everything I needed,” said Hadley. “I think it also came as a shock (to them) because I am the first girl in Jamesville-DeWitt history to play varsity football, so they weren’t sure what to expect. But they treated me the same as everyone else, which I highly respected.”
Although the coaching staff was supportive right away, it took others some time to come around.
“I have a bunch of friends on the team, so they were very excited for me to play, but the people I wasn’t friends with were a little skeptical,” said the first-year wide receiver. “I went to all of the captains’ practices and played 7 on 7, and once they saw I could actually play, wasn’t just doing it to make a statement, and that I really wanted to play the game of football, they respected that and welcomed me. They are all awesome and help me with whatever I need.”
Now, everyone on the team has her back. Hadley even recounted a story where a teammate helped braid her hair to fit under her helmet since she couldn’t reach behind her with pads on.
The atmosphere at practice is one of the main things that Hadley has enjoyed since joining the team, calling them “one of the most uplifting things I’ve ever been a part of.”
As far as how being a female in a male dominated sport is impacting her experience, Hadley acknowledges the importance of her being there, while still wanting to be treated the same as everyone else.
“As a football player I am ready to get hit full force and be tackled. I’m not expect special treatment because I am a girl,” said Hadley. “With that being said, I am very proud of myself for going out there everyday and giving it my all, as well as being the first girl in J-D history to play and make it on varsity.”
To add to that, Hadley has also learned something throughout this process that everyone should take to heart.
“No matter who you are or what gender you are, do what you are passionate about and don’t worry about what anyone thinks, because at the end of the day you will be happier with the path you decided and made for yourself rather than the path you let others create for you.”
As the first game becomes nearer and nearer, the newcomer to the team has two goals this year. One for herself and one for the team. For herself, Hadley wants to give 110% any moment she’s on the field. And her goal for the team?
An undefeated season.
Hadley and the rest of the Red Rams will make their final tune-ups in a scrimmage against Cortland this Friday at J-D. Then, they’ll begin that march towards a potential undefeated season on Tuesday, March 30th in an away game against Baldwinsville. The team’s full schedule can be found here, and the YouTube channel where home games will be streamed can be found here.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Hadley was the first female football player in Jamesville-DeWitt program history. To the best of the coaching staff’s knowledge, Hadley is the first female member of the varsity team, but there have been multiple female members of the modified, freshman, and junior varsity teams. This group includes both Jessica Stewart ’05, Nadine Prince ’09, and Elisa Iribarne. If you have any corrections or know any additional information on this topic, please reach out to me at email@example.com.