Kicking Away Gender Stereotypes that Surround Football
By Stavros Panos and Evelyn Collon
There was one last opportunity to win. One last kick. One last play.
Senior Bloomfield Hills Kicker, Sara Huston, had the game of her life on October 16. In a nail-biting rivalry game against Berkley High School, Huston pulled her team to a victory with an extra point attempt in overtime. This final kick gave Huston the chance to prove her relentless strength, dedication, and grit that she demonstrates daily on the Bloomfield Hills football team.
“Sara comes to practice every day with the intent of improvement. I have never seen her quit. She is dedicated to making a difference on our team whether it is going extra hard in workouts or knocking down kicks after practice,” Bloomfield Hills quarterback Tanner Slazinski said.
Sealing a win against Berkley forced spectators to turn their attention to Huston’s role on her team. At first, Huston felt daunted as the only girl on a high school football team.
“The pressure was the hardest part of being a new player. People expect a lot more from me specifically because I’m a girl. There is a lot of attention on me which makes the stress worse,” Huston said.
Huston combated the added pressure by working hard despite obstacles.
“Sara always took advantage in the summer. We worked hard on her craft and we went out early on game-day before the rest of the team to work on some things. She always took advantage of her resources,” Bloomfield Hills coach Haji Sheikh Ali said.
At times, Huston experienced harsh commentary from opposing teams, but Huston said this didn’t stop her from doing her job. Generally, Huston tried to block out the comments, and, often, the sexist comments directed toward Huston encouraged her to perform better.
“Typically, I receive sexual comments such as guys asking for my number. Also, people have called me names. I have been called ‘Barbie’ before. Someone once told me to ‘go back to the kitchen’. No matter where I am, on or off the field, people shout a lot of stuff,” Huston said.
Despite these comments, Huston kept her head up and used them to fuel her kicks. Huston defied all odds and never failed to demonstrate consistency. Whether it was practice or a game, she always gave her full effort.
“During our Berkley game, Sara’s kick propelled us to a big victory. Sara being consistent forced the other team to do some things that they probably did not want to do. I always emphasize that every point matters which Sara has never failed to demonstrate,” Ali Said.
Huston’s consistency ultimately helped her team throughout every game of their season, but on October 16, her continuous accuracy led them to an overtime win against their rival team.
“It was an insane moment. To be honest, it was probably one of the best moments of my life. Everyone ran out onto the field. I was lifted by my teammates. Our head coach is kind of stand-offish but even he was emotional and he was telling me ‘you’re the best’ and stuff like that. All of the coaches were coming up to congratulate me and it was just crazy,” Huston said.
That moment, Huston felts she proved a vital part of the program as a female athlete.
“When Sara knocked her extra point through the uprights to win our Berkley game, it was a super exciting moment for everyone. I’ve always been used to having a girl on our team but in the Berkley game, I was really able to gain a higher level of thanks for Sara and her role as a kicker,” Slazinski said.
This play received much publicity, which helped spread Huston’s story to the surrounding cities. Where Junior Northville kicker, Anna Kasapis, heard about Huston.
"I was so happy to know that us girls were starting to show our talent on the gridiron in high school football," Kasapis said.
Kasapis started kicking for Northville in her sophomore year of high school. Throughout her time as a kicker, Kasapis similarly experienced adversity in the weight room during pre-season workouts.
“This year, my first year on varsity, one of the seniors told me that I’m not good enough to play on the team. I was kicking one day in practice, and he explicitly said ‘You’re not good enough. You’re not gonna start.’ There were other teammates that were backing me up. We didn’t really know each other, but, when I started to prove myself, he took his comment back and he started giving me compliments,” Kasapis said.
Teammates continued to praise Kasapis, despite their initial refusal to accept her as a football player. They especially supported her after her kick during the game against Howell.
“It was the fourth quarter, and it was my job to go out onto the field to kick a field goal. The kick was only about 21 yards but everyone was relying on me. We were winning by a few points but making the kick would’ve prevented the other team from being able to come back. I nervously went out onto the field to kick this final field goal. I thought I was going to miss the kick but I remember seeing the ball go through the uprights. After that, the whole team came out onto the field and swarmed me. They huddled around me and a lot of the players started hugging me,” Kasapis said.
Similar to Huston, Kasapis was able to grow closer with her team after a game-sealing kick against Howell High School. Kasapis’s team’s reaction to this kick displays accepting behaviors that have made her time at Northville seamless.
“During my Novi game as sophomore (first year playing), I had to kick a 34 yard field goal and I was really nervous. Before I went out, all of the guys were huddled around me and they were patting me on the back. After that, I went out and made the field goal. My quarterback who doubles as my holder was jumping all over me and he was also hitting me on the helmet. That experience was really cool,” Kasapis said.
The Northville football team has formed a big brother role for Kasapis said. She feels they stick up for her when the hear sexists or degrading remarcks aimed at her from other teams.. Bonding this way, helped later smooth the transition into the program for Kasapis.
Zach Brohl agreed that he and his teammates look out for Kasapis, no matter the circumstance. Mores so, many teammates looked to Kasapis for advice.
“We help her out with anything, whether on or off the field. She always came up to me if I had done something wrong, and she would be there to give me advice. On the other side of that, she was also always there if I did something good to congratulate me or to hype me up,” Brohl said.
Brohl appreciated his experience with Kasapis on the team and how she helped his football career.
One of Bloomfield Hills coaches, Haji Sheikh Ali described moments of coherence during his time coaching Huston. In the eyes of Coach Ali, Huston was able to experience team camaraderie similar to what Kasapis felt. While discussing specific moments where Huston was able to bond with her team, Coach Ali remarked on the camaraderie that the Bloomfield players have developed. Ali also emphasized that Huston is a part of their team and she is respected both on and off the field.
“Part of the best example is when we beat Berkley in overtime. Huston got mobbed by everyone. For the most part, there was never a point when she wasn't accepted. She came to practice every day and she worked on her craft and it really showed. Huston didn’t miss an extra point all year. When you get your job done, everyone accepts you very easily,” Ali said.
Ali continued that no matter the player's gender they must execute their plays and continue to improved. Ali often choose Kasapis to put into a tense moment in the game because of her skill.
"Having a male or a female makes no difference. It is the same thing as having a sophomore and a senior. We are going to put the most qualified and comfortable player in a position that suits them well. We want them to succeed,” Ali said.
Kasapis and Huston have been able to inspire other younger girls to chase their dreams. Huston’s 7-year-old step-sister, Ava Massa, wants to follow in her older sibling’s footsteps.
“I can’t wait to be like my sister when I’m older. Hopefully you can teach me how to kick just like her,” Massa said.
In turn, other girls playing football beyond high school inspires Kasapis. One of these girls is Sara Fuller: the kicker at Vanderbilt University.
“Unfortunately, girls that play at higher levels don't tend to receive positive feedback. There is a lot of criticism that surrounds girls playing football,” Kasapis said. “In my opinion, people should watch girls play with an open mind and see what they can do. I want to be able to show people that if girls put their heart and mind to something, they can achieve anything.”