Tackling the stereotypes: one of Loudoun’s female footballers
Allison is the only female football player on the 40- “man” Loudoun Valley High School football team. But her career didn't start on the high school's turf.
A cheerleader since kindergarten, Allison spent years on the sidelines. But as she watched her older brothers play football, she knew where she really wanted to be. The field was calling her name, and in 2008, Allison decided it was time for a change.
“Mom, I'd rather hit boys than cheer for them,” she had told her mother.
Ever since, she's been tearing up the turf with the boys. And she's a hard hitter, playing anywhere on the line, whether tackle or guard. But she prefers playing offensive line rather than defensive positions. The physical rigor of the contact sport is what drives her.
She started her football career in 2009 as a fourth grader with the Packers in the Upper Loudoun Youth Football League. While her teammates were initially thrown by a girl on the team, they quickly got used to her presence.
“The first time out at tryouts, I think they were like, 'That's a girl, what's she doing here?'” Allison said. “'Girls don't play football.' And a couple years down the road, they were like 'Yep, Hannah's here again. Big surprise.'”
With her sense of humor and spitfire personality, Allison holds her own. In fact, some days the biggest challenge of being the only girl on the team is keeping her cool.
“Being the only girl amongst 40 other boys, I don't think it's the physicality or the learning the game or doing what's asked of you [that wears on me],” she said. “It's more of the putting up with my teammates.”
Allison's mother, Kim Allison, said a big part of getting Hannah Allison involved was socializing the coaches.
“[We wanted to see] how the coaches felt about having a girl on the team,” said Kim Allison. “Because she'd be the only one. Because she has older brothers and my husband was an assistant coach at the time, we just kind of talked to all the coaches and asked, 'How do you feel about girls playing football for you?' And they were all supportive.”
Now Hannah Allison has made her way to high school football. The teammates around her accept her either out of familiarity or respect. Upperclassmen know her through her brother, Sam Allison, a senior and fellow teammate. And the coaches knew what they were getting into.
“She's been a joy to be around, not just as a player but as a person,” said Kenyamo McFarlane, head coach of freshman football. “It's a hard-hitting sport, but she hasn't complained or backed down at all, and I really respect her for that … She's just like the other team members. Hardworking and respectful. She's keeping that tradition alive, and we're proud to have her in the program.”
Coaches show no favoritism and give her no breaks. She works just as hard as the other players, and, in some ways, she feels the need to work harder. She strives to outperform in order to make up for stereotypes and misconceptions.
“I feel like I get extra attention,” Allison said. “Like people are looking at me more closely than they would the other people just because I'm a girl … I feel like people expect more of me, and I have to put out more effort.”
And yet, the extra attention also comes from a special fan section that transcends team loyalty.
“She had the biggest cheering section when she played at Upper Loudoun because all the moms were like, 'Yay! Go Hannah!'” said Kim Allison. “Even the mothers on the opposite team … I think it's partly because we all wish we'd had the opportunity. It just shows you how far things have progressed … I don't see barriers to it. If you want to play, play. It's not any more risky than any other sport.”
When she's not beating up boys on the field, Allison loves rugby and basketball. She also performs on stage. In fact, her football career enriches her theater life. The process of blocking the movement of actors within a scene is like remembering a football play, she said.
Where does Allison see herself? Three years ago she would have said she dreamed of playing for the NFL. Now she's looking more toward coaching or commentating.
“Now that I'm slightly older … I want to be a coach or football commentator,” she said. “That way I get paid to go to games as a football commentator. That's my dream job. But if I was a coach, I can actually yell at the players … I just want to do football even if that means I have to coach a little league.”
For now, Allison just wants to play and to play hard. Because that's what she loves. And maybe in the process, she'll be an encouragement for other girls.
“She can be a role model for other athletes everywhere,” said McFarlane. “If you put your mind to it, it doesn't matter what stigmas there are, you can accomplish anything.”
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