Girl power! Ollis achieves success in male-dominant football arena
Jamie Shell / (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Avery Middle School eighth grader Charity Ollis doesn't see herself as a girl playing a boy's sport of football. Rather, Ollis, who also enjoys playing basketball and softball, sees herself as a player enjoying a game she loves.
"Football is more aggressive and a lot different than other sports. I wasn't used to having all the pads and stuff on and getting hit intentionally," Ollis said during an exclusive interview with The AJT.
Ollis had not played the game prior to this season, but as a natural athlete, managed to pick the game up quickly and succeed in short order, as evidenced by the three touchdowns she scored during the recently-concluded middle school football season, including a pair of scores in the Brad King Bowl to close the regular season on Sept. 25.
"I've always wanted to play football, and I decided that this year was the year to try," Ollis added.
Ollis' coach, AMS head football coach Donnie Johnson, was always impressed with the effort Ollis gave on the field and the heart she displayed when facing opponents who were often larger and more experienced than she was.
"The main thing Charity brought to the team was effort. You never have to tell her to run harder or anything because she's always going to do everything to the best of her abilities," Johnson explained.
"She had the skill set already, so when she was the one also bringing the effort, it wasn't really a tough decision at all."
As an all-star catcher for Avery's Little League Softball teams, Ollis already knew what it was like to face collisions from charging opponents. The experience served her well as she traded a catcher's mitt and mask for a pigskin and helmet.
"Playing softball helped a lot and made a big difference," Ollis added.
Ollis wasn't the only female who suited up for the Panthers this season. Two other ladies, Kim Gragg and Azia Hemphill, joined Ollis as members of the AMS gridiron squad.
"When we stretched before games the three of us would always stand beside each other so we knew we had girls beside us to speak to," Ollis explained. "It was good for us to be together and support each other."
Ollis admitted that her male teammates were fine with lining up on the field with a member of the opposite gender, treating she and her teammates with respect and as another member of the group.
"The boys were okay with it. They didn't treat us any differently at all," Ollis said.
"The only real difference treatment-wise was that the ladies had a different dressing room than the guys," Johnson added.
Johnson was quick to point out the positive comments that fellow coaches in the Toe River Conference shared with him concerning Ollis and her exploits on the field.
"Every coach was positive in their remarks about Charity. They were impressed with her abilities and would tell me things like 'she's a player,' and 'she can really play.' All of them were really surprised when they witnessed what she could do," Johnson explained.
Ollis' family has been supportive of her throughout the season, although her mother did condition her playing the game with one concern.
"My mom was okay with it because she knew that I'd always wanted to play. She said I could play, but that if I got hurt, I would have to quit," Ollis explained.
"Charity is as tough as any of the other players we had, so I wasn't concerned. I would check on her just as I would any of our other players who might get hurt out there," Johnson said.
For Ollis, football has become a passion, and suiting up to play is not a one-and-done proposition.
She intends to try out for Avery High School's junior varsity football team after graduating this spring from Avery Middle School.
"I know it will be a challenge, but I definitely want to play as long as I can and play running back," Ollis clarified.
For anyone who desires to follow in the footsteps of she, her teammates and other girls who have donned the uniform and lined up to play football, Ollis offered some advice: "I'd tell any girl to go out there and play as hard as any of the boys do."