Prep football

Griffith, Munster varsity football players accept their female teammates

2012-08-07T19:30:00Z 2012-08-10T19:39:25Z Griffith, Munster varsity football players accept their female teammatesAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
August 07, 2012 7:30 pm  • 

Griffith senior Kaitlynd Gardner and Munster junior Amber Kimbrough never have met, but when they do, it likely will be on a football field.

Both play that black-and-blue, throw-down, chest-thumping male sport where girls usually serve as cheerleaders, trainers or team managers.

Locally, Gardner and Kimbrough are the only girls listed on a varsity football roster this season and the first in the history of their respective high schools.

They chose football, with their parents' blessing, because they love the game.

"I wanted to play my freshman year, but the principal then (Bonnie Manuel) said I couldn't because the guys were maturing and going through growth spurts," Gardner said.

"I was a little upset and even made a petition. I actually had two pages (signed), but it didn't do anything."

Last year, coach Russ Radtke saw Gardner kick a football in gym class and suggested she try out. This season, nothing was going to stop her from realizing her dream.

"My mom was worried at first but I'm a kicker so if I do get tackled, it's a penalty flag for the other team," Gardner said. "I feel if I do this, more people in general will actually do what they want to do.

"At first, (the boys) didn't take it well, but they got used to it and started accepting me. It's so quiet having your own locker room, but at least there's privacy."

Gardner said her field goal range is 25 to 30 yards. The Panthers currently have five kickers, so she'll probably split time kicking PATs on the junior varsity.

"It's my first year so I'd expect it," she said. "Plus (Steven) Sharp and 'Gonzo' (Jordan Gonzalez) are really good."

Sharp was more than happy to offer kicking tips.

"I'm trying to help her the best I can. I'm showing her all the drills that I've learned at all the practices and camps I went through," he said.

"She's picking it up and might actually get in a couple of varsity games."

Football's physical nature does not scare Gardner.

"She has to have some tough skin to do this," said new head coach Jim Pickett. "The guys have accepted her. She'll stick it out. I think she wants to be a trend-setter."

Kimbrough's coach at Munster, Leroy Marsh, said the first requirement for his football candidates is that they be physically fit.

"Amber's the only (girl) that has been physically fit enough and strong enough to play the game," Marsh said of his 5-foot-5, 253-pound offensive guard/tackle.

"She's definitely a for-real player. She's not one of those you let on as a token. She works in the weight room. She's a real athlete."

Kimbrough played freshman ball but a concussion in practice cut her season short. She served as a team trainer and did video work her sophomore year but is now back in uniform.

"Ever since I was younger, I played football with my brothers and my dad all the time," Kimbrough said. "My dad played high school and college ball, and I looked up to him a lot, so I decided to start playing when I was 10.

"We moved here my seventh-grade year, and I've been playing ever since. It didn't take any time to fit in because I went to school with these guys and they knew I was tougher than most of the girls and stronger than a lot of the guys."

Kimbrough gladly accepts the risks.

"It's about having fun," said Kimbrough, who's one of nine siblings. "I'm still a kid so I have plenty of time to get older and fall into some category of life. But for now, I want to do what makes me happy and that's football."

Munster linebacker Marko Popovich can respect that.

"You'll see drills where we go head to head with her and she'll just bury kids off the ball. It's pretty impressive, actually," Popovich said. "Football is not a sport that welcomes females, but she fits in real well.

"She gives it her all and that's all we want."

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