The girls of Jupiter High School proved their point Friday night, at least for now — that they can play tackle football as safely as boys and have as much fun.
Three months after administrators at the Florida school tried to kill the nation's only tackle powder puff football game after 50 years, citing safety concerns, the Jupiter juniors defeated the seniors 18-0 in the 51st contest. And though that result might spur some razzing over the summer and at future class reunions, the more important tally for the game's future: no serious injuries. One girl left the game with a limp.
"I hope this will keep the game going," senior Megan Mendoza said. "Maybe one day it will lead to scholarships. That's what I hope."
When the game almost died this spring, the girls went to work to save it - and got a civics lesson in the process. They lobbied the Jupiter Town Council, convincing the members the city should take over as sponsor. They borrowed helmets and pads from a local youth league, bought liability insurance ($470, donated by one player's dad, covers both squads for up to $2 million) and agreed to the town's requirement that they go through weeks of practice and conditioning drills.
They were willing to do about anything to keep their alma mater from becoming just one more of the thousands of American high schools that play flag powder puff, a no-contact version in which girls stop opponents by pulling flags off their belts, rather than wrestling them to the ground.
They found an easy ally in Jupiter Mayor Todd Wodraska.
He coached his class's girls — his future wife played on the opposing team one year — when he played football at Jupiter High in the 1980s. He didn't want to lose the excitement and sense of tradition the tackle game brings to the suburb of 60,000 in Palm Beach County.
Wodraska said the town commission takes the risk of injury as seriously as the school board did but thinks it can be mitigated.
"My colleagues agreed that if the girls go through safety procedures and the girls and parents are willing to acknowledge the risk, then we can host the game," he said.
At Friday's game, a lightning storm delayed the start and cut the crowd from its usual packed home stands to about a third full. The game, while sloppy with fumbles and penalties, would have still warmed a gridiron purist's heart a bit: It featured lots of straight-ahead running with few passes, little trickery, swarming tackles and the occasional hard hit.
Spectator Sharon Owen, a Jupiter preschool teacher, said she attended the game to support the girls, calling the original decision to cancel the game "insane."
"They have been playing this game for 51 years; they should carry on the tradition," she said.
The school's withdrawal of support could affect next year's boys' team. Brianna Hockman joined the boys' squad, saying she wants to prove that girls can play football right alongside the boys. During Friday's girls' game, she was clearly the most valuable player, scoring all three of the game's touchdowns on 75-, 57- and 42-yard runs and was a force on defense.
"I'm not as good as some of (the boy players), but I put in just as much work," she said.