By Marty Gordon
Tackle football has long been known as a male-dominated sport, but things are changing and for three Radford girls they are ready to buck the system.
Kearson Carter, Lesle Epley and Annika Meeks proved it this past weekend when they took the field during the New River Valley Recreation Football League’s super-bowl championships at Christiansburg High School.
The number of girls playing tackle football is still low compared to boys. The recent numbers from Pop Warner youth football show that out of 225,000 young athletes just 1,100 are girlsl. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, of the 5.5 million Americans who report playing tackle football, 596,000, or10.9 percent, are female. But the familiarity with the game itself is coming from many directions for young girls.
In some parts of the U.S., there are all-female tackle leagues. That is not true here in southwest Virginia where the girls have to suit up with the boys.
Meeks’ grandfather was Charlie Meeks, who ran football camps. She was at one when he noticed her running with the boys and in some cases even doing better than them. “I asked her if she wanted to play tackle football, and she said yes,” her grandfather said.
Of course, like any other girl, both her grandmother and her mother had their reservations. “They were worried about her playing with the boys especially with it being tackle,” Charlie said.
But the 9-year-old didn’t think twice. “I wanted to tackle the boys,” she said following the championship games.
She called it fun and is looking to playing again next year. The interesting fact when it came to Annika Meeks is that she was the smallest person on the team and played defensive line all season.
It was a similar experience for Epley who played wide receiver and started for the Bobcats’ junior team at defensive back. She said the boys didn’t take it easy on her.
Meeks said he had to stop practice once when Epley hit a male teammate so hard that he was crying. “She was and is a great player,” he said
The third member of the black and gold female contingent was Kearson Carter, who has a long history of an excellent football family. Her father, Charles Carter, was a running back at Christiansburg High School. Her uncle, Kirk Carter, still holds several state rushing records. Then there was her grandfather, Doug Carter, and her uncle Chris Carter.
But when it came to the Charles Carter family, he was blessed with four girls and no boys. At first, he didn’t expect any of thiem would drift toward football.
“She is a tough little girl and has always been around football. She loves to play Madden, the football video game with me, and has even beaten me a few times,” her father said.
So, it became natural, you might say, that Kearson would suit up for tackle football. She started this season for the Bobcats at running back and safety and led the team in scoring.
Now, Kearson said, she is eager to suit up for the middle school and high school teams.