Eighth-grader suiting up for Thunderbirds
By Holly Neumann
Playing football is nothing new for eighth-grader Ana Holder.
In fact, she’s moving into her fifth season of participating in the sport.
“I started playing when I was in fourth grade for the Firebirds,” Holder said. “I played one year of Junior Pee-Wee, two years of Pee-Wee, my seventh grade (on a middle school team) and now I am an eighth-grader.”
The only girl on the roster, she suits up as an offensive and defensive tackle.
“I love the game,” she said. “I like being able to protect the quarterback and giving him a chance to run. I like being where the action is and I really like the playing the line.”
Coach Tim Welch sees Holder as an asset to the team.
“Ana has played football for many years and continues to love the game,” he said. “She is very knowledgeable about football and understands the concepts we are working on. She is confident in her abilities and is not afraid to knock anyone around.”
Holder feels her teammates just take it in stride that she in on the team.
“They are used to me now,” she said. “They don’t seem to care, but if there was a new kid on the team, they will always look at me a little weird.”
She considers herself to be a tough player.
“I think my own teammates go harder on me,” she said. “I also think some of the younger kids are afraid of me. I think other teams want to see me cry. I don’t cry.”
Welch felt accommodations would have to be made for Holder.
“We found out quickly that is not the case,” he said. “She does not want to be treated any different than one of the boys. It is important that when we are coaching, we do not give her any other breaks that the guys would get. She does not want any, either. She leads by example and gets the job done in practice.”
One accommodation that does have to be made is use of a locker room.
“The boys get these great big lockers in their locker room,” Holder said. “All their stuff fits in there great. I, however, have to use a locker at the fitness center and cram all my stuff in.”
She does find some humor in it, though.
“I feel sorry for the people who have lockers next to me,” she said. “After practice, all that gear stinks.”
Holder said she has gained more and more support over the years.
“Although I have heard fans yell things like ‘You just got tackled by a girl,’ overall, I think people have been pretty supportive,” she said.
Holder’s biggest fans are her parents, Nathan and Sarah.
“My parents have always encouraged me,” she said. “I wear my dad’s football number from when he was in high school. He has told me all his experiences and was able to give me a lot of advice.”
Holder has advice to offer as well.
“Some of my friends have considered playing,” she said. “I tell them to get ready because it is going to hurt. If you prove yourself, you will do well.”
Playing football has changed Holder, she said.
“I am a little bit of a tomboy,” she said. “Whenever I do something girly, people look at me weird. You cannot completely go away from being a girl.”
Off the field, boys treat her different than other girls, she said.
“They treat me a little bit more of a guy than a girl and I am OK with that,” she said. “On the field, however, they definitely notice when one of the linemen is wearing nail polish.”
Holder has not made a decision as to whether she will continue to play high school football.
“I do have a little brother who is 3,” she said. “I will start to teach him everything I know.”