VALPARAISO | Jeanette Gray has worn a lot of uniforms during her athletic career, but never one that has carried as much significance as the latest the Valparaiso native has earned.
Gray was named to the U.S. Women’s National Football team last week and will travel to Finland in late June to participate in the second International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship.
“I get chills when I talk about it,” Gray said. “When we were at tryouts they gave us gear with “USA” on it and you start to think about all the great athletes that have worn this uniform in all sports. It’s very humbling.”
Gray was an Indiana All-Star while playing basketball for Valparaiso High and earned All-Mid Con honors for Valparaiso University, but nothing has brought Gray the kind of accolades she has received since beginning her football career.
The Valparaiso High School girls’ basketball coach was named the 2010 Women’s Football Alliance Offensive Rookie of the Year when she began her career with the Chicago Force. Gray was named the Co-Offensive Player of the Year the next season as well as an All-American. Last August Gray and her teammates became the first professional women football players to compete in a NFL stadium when the Force played the San Diego Surge in the WFA National Championship.
“There are all these stories about girls getting kicked out of football leagues and we are showing that girls can play football,” Gray said. “If anyone doubts that, they can come and watch us play. It’s a cool feeling being a pioneer for a sport.”
Team USA won the first IFAF championship in 2010, blanking Canada 66-0 in Stockholm, Sweden. Gray took part in full contact National Team Trials last month in Austin, Texas and competed against more than 30 wide receivers, of which just seven were selected.
“I played really aggressive, just wanting to go out and show that I was really confident in my abilities,” Gray said. “I soaked in everything the coaches told us, played really hard and worked hard.”
Gray received word last week that she had been selected for the team, which will be led by Force coach and Schererville native John Konecki. Portage native and Force offensive lineman Jamie Menzyk was also named to the national team.
“I was ecstatic and I’ve been on cloud nine since I found out,” Gray said. “You’re an athlete your whole life and this really verifies for me that if you have the right mindset, you can accomplish your goals.”