A high school senior in Plantation, Florida, is breaking a gender barrier in sports.
A female quarterback has not only taken to the field, but she's also
played in a game for her high school's 'tackle' football team.
It's believed to be the first time that's ever happened in Florida, and the reluctant trailblazer is the real deal.
It's a typical September Friday night at South Plantation High School.
The home team,The Paladins, are getting ready to host
nearby Fort Lauderdale's Stranahan High School.
But there's something...or someone, a-typical on the sidelines, where all eyes are on the team's smallest player.
It's hard NOT to notice the blonde ponytail protruding from the back of a helmet in the middle of the huddle.
It belongs to 5-foot-5 inch 140 pound Erin DiMeglio, who'd prefer to be anonymous. “I'm not really the kind of person who likes to be the center of attention all the time. But I like to be part of the team. I don't want to be pulled away from my teammates, so I just kind of go along with it, you know and then just go on with my regular life”
DiMeglio may not have sought the attention, but she's getting it.
Earlier this season, she became the first high school girl to ever play the position of quarterback during a game in Florida. She's even had a chance to throw a pass, and complete one and it's gotten the attention of the local and national media. But she didn't even realize she was blazing a trail.
"Not at all. I just was playing because I loved playing, I had no idea I was the first this and that, I wasn't intentionally trying to break records I was just doing it”
The 17-year old senior has been playing and throwing a football ever since she could walk.
In the 4th grade, she began playing flag football and stood out among the boys.
Doug Gatewood has known Erin since coaching her in flag football. He's now South Plantation's head coach. He says this is no publicity stunt.
“Football's one of those sports that if you can play, you're going to play. My goal is to have the best 11 kids on the field at any given time, and she can play”
Erin's dad Tom DiMeglio's a police officer in the neighboring town of Davie, Florida, and a former high school player himself.
He's nurtured his daughter's love for football for years...
But even he was surprised when Erin came to him with an unusual request.
“Yeah when she first came to me and said the coach wants to know if I can put on some pads and play, and I was like--what was that? But things have changed now, and it's a different time”
For mom Kathleen DiMeglio it was an even harder sell.
But she knew her daughter's passion for the game, and quickly relented.
”It makes her very happy and this is fulfilling a dream. What parent can stand aside and not say they aren't thrilled when their kid gets to fulfill a lifelong dream for her”
There are obstacles though on the road to fulfilling that dream.
Being around all the guys in such a Testosterone-fueled sport could make a girl
uncomfortable. But coach Gatewood says so far it hasn't been an issue.
"There could have been issues, but it wasn't that way. All 50 of them really have no(ne). But here again--she doesn't ask for any special treatment. When they do up-downs--she does up-downs. I almost forget she's there sometimes. I kind of notice I'm really running it and Erin's really running right with them. So, I don't know, the boys accept her wholeheartedly”
And it certainly sounds that way.
"How do you guys like her as a teammate? Everybody like her?” PLAYER #1: “We love her.” PL: “Yeah. She's like one of the guys?” PLAYER #2: “That's my girlfriend.” PLAYER #3: “She's like our sister. That's my family” PLAYER #4: “That's our job to protect her” PLAYER #5: “We tell them on the line, that's my girlfriend, you hit her, you're dead.” PL: “Does she have a good arm” PLAYER #6: “Phenomenal” PLAYER #7: “She's got a better arm than our starting quarterback”(LAUGHS) PLAYER #8: “No, that was a joke”
Her parents say they've heard from other girls thanking her for her courage.
Erin says she doesn't feel particularly courageous.
But if she serves as inspiration for other young women in her spikes, that's just fine with her.
“I never thought of myself as a trendsetter. I just did my own thing. If some girl looked up to me as a role model, I would feel great about that.”
Erin's South Plantation Paladins are enjoying a winning season so far.
Their next game is against the Hollywood Hills Spartans on October 11th.