Cooper kicks the extra point. Photo Credit: Paul Lamontagne

Kicking Down Barriers

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Thursday October 20, 2016

This fall season, Fox is airing a new show called Pitch. The show is about a 23 year old pitcher for the San Diego Padres who also happens to be a woman. In the show, she becomes the first woman ever to not only start a major league baseball game, but to win one as well. The media goes crazy and questions her staying power, and men and women throughout the country are cheering her on. She is given the number 43, one up from Jackie Robinson, a symbolic gesture for the impact this event would have on our nation. Hollywood comes up with some crazy ideas, but how crazy is this idea really? Would it be possible for a woman to play in major league baseball or any of the other major professional sports in America?

Every single year, women are crushing barriers in sports and fitness, challenging all previously held views on the strength and skill of female athletes. While the show is certainly helping guide a conversation about gender equality in sports, one South Burlington football player is helping to prove the show’s plot may not be so far fetched.

Many people believe that football is a male sport. It is a combative sport in which players run into each other at full speed with the sole purpose of pushing the football into the endzone. Blocking, tackling, throwing and kicking a football are skills that boys are expected to excel in due to the size, strength and speed needed for such a sport. But what about girls? Can they block and tackle, throw and kick the same way that boys can? Occasionally, girls participate in football programs across the state of Vermont. They pass up soccer, field hockey, cross country and now volleyball for a chance to play football. South Burlington happens to be one of those programs this season. McKenna Cooper, a junior, is the kicker for the South Burlington football team. Besides defying odds and breaking down barriers, she also happens to be the first female ever to score points for the Rebel football program. She has successfully kicked field goals and extra points for the Rebels throughout the 2016 season.

Cooper played soccer for 11 years, starting at the age of five. She learned to love soccer, but she was intrigued with football. One Sunday afternoon, she asked her dad if he would help her learn how to kick a football. She recalled his reaction, “He shrugged his shoulders, and said that he would get a ball so we could go. After about a week or two, I went back to my dad and asked him again. He asked me if I was sure, and I told him yes. So he bought a ball, tee, holder, and we went out, she said.” Since the turf field was always being used, she had to kick over the soccer goals. It was tough at first, but she stayed with it. After kicking every weekend for several months, she realized she had a true passion for football and moved away from soccer.

After conversations with head football coach Joe McDonald, Cooper started lifting with the football team in the winter of 2015. She trained for football throughout the winter, spring and summer so that she could be ready for the season. “By the time the season came around, I was ready to go!” she said.

When Cooper started kicking extra points and making field goals, she hadn’t even realized that she would be the first female athlete to score points for the Rebel football team. “It feels amazing and crazy!” she said. “I get such a rush out on the field and I hope to inspire other girls that want to do something out of the “norm.” She’s not only doing something out of the norm, but she is doing it extremely well.

Cooper has accounted for points in nearly every Rebel game this season. Also a member of the varsity dance and track team, she has enjoyed her experience as part of the Rebel football team tremendously. “I love this team so much; they treat me like a little sister. They always have my back. And I couldn’t do my job without my line, my snapper, or my holder. Everyone on this team has embraced me as if I’m one of the guys. I couldn’t have picked a better sport or program to be a part of, she said.”

It has been a tough season for the Rebel football team, but they have stayed together and fought hard each week. McKenna Cooper has become just another player on the team, but due to her success and others like her, the future of women in sports is very bright. Fox’s new show, in reality, could be right around the corner, but maybe, instead of a pitcher, it will be about an NFL kicker.

SOURCE: Drew Gordon, Correspondent