OF COURSE I'm Going to Play!
The day I found out that only boys play college football.
I always thought my Dad had the coolest job. He got to go to college, but didn't have to write papers, turn in projects, or study for tests. He always had nice guys around him, and they were always laughing. He went to work in shorts lots of times, and always got to wear a ball cap.
I remember once when I was little, and he was coaching for Ohio State, he was asked by Coach Schembechler to come to Miami (of Ohio) to talk about coaching there.
Someone asked me where my dad was that day, and I responded “Oh, he is at his Ami.” It made sense, since my dad said “I’m going to Miami,” that he had an “ami” and that’s where he was.
As it turned out, he was at “his ami” a lot. He coached there under Bo, and then under Coach (Bill) Mallory. By the way, when you are a coach’s kid, everyone is “Coach” instead of “Mr.” All the dads I knew were coaches, and all the kids I played with were coach's kids.
Growing up, we were like any normal kids. Kids with lawyer parents may hear about probable cause, plea agreements, and briefs, but ours was a house that depended on football for its income (although when my dad coached, it was a meager existence). Our conversations revolved around lots of things–my mom was a well-read intellectual, and wanted our dinner conversations to be like the Kennedy family: Make a good point and back it up with facts and evidence, or at least a passionate argument, and I don't care if you are only 10. You have a brain.
I was always engaged when the conversation was about "the Old Man," the pet name given to Coach (Woody) Hayes, Coach (Bo) Schembechler, other coaches, players, or the fact that we might be moving–again.
Every time my dad got a new coaching opportunity–and they bounce around a fair amount–we had to pack up, move, and be settled before spring practice.
This normally meant that we would move during Spring Break which almost always included my birthday. I always hated leaving my friends, and I still have the box of letters from my 2nd grade class when I moved from University of Akron (their cheerleaders were the nicest) back to Miami (which I also loved).
Moving a lot made me resilient, and more extroverted than I am normally. I don't remember ever feeling resentful. I loved football, my dad loved it, and it was our life. All the coach's kids had the same experience.
As soon as we were old enough, we were doing agility drills in the living room, and my dad would do all types of whistle drills with us outside. We also spent time trying to get my small but strong dad off of all fours. My aunt Nancy lived with us for a good part of our childhood, and she would jump on his back in a surprise attack while my brothers and I tried to destabilize his arms. It was impossible.
When we went on road trips, we had a college football songbook my mom put together. We sang every school's fight song except Michigan's. However, we were allowed to sing "We Don't Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan," and we were ALLOWED to say DAMN which of course we yelled at the top of our lungs.
In elementary school and even into middle school, I was taller than everyone, even the boys. I was fast and fearless. At recess, I most often played football or kickball with the boys, and I was forever finding scrapes and bruises on my arms and legs with no idea of how they got there.
I was athletic and very passionate about my sport.
When I was about 9, my dad was coaching for Miami, and when he came home, I asked him what position he thought I would play.
My Dad: "What?"
"I mean, I'm fast, so I could carry the ball, but I might like to play defense and put people on the grooooouuuuunnd. Yeah. That's what I think I'll do."
That's when he asked me if I noticed that all the players I see him with are boys.
Then he explained that I probably would not get that chance, but that there were many sports where my speed and toughness would come in handy.
Looking back, that was not my favorite day, but I had lots of days that WERE my favorites. Like sitting next to him in the basement where we watched hours of film on an old 16mm projector. The ticks of the projector accompanied the flicker of the game on an old sheet he had hung in the basement against a cement-block wall. He had his clipboard and made notes furiously while I asked him again and again WHEN we could actually watch the guys WITH the ball.
"Tell you what Ter, we will watch this defensive back five more times and then we will watch five plays and talk about where the ball went and why."
When we got done with a session, I would always ask him if he liked the players we watched and if he was going to talk to them and their families. Lots of times he would remind me that it's not just about the kid's playing.
"If I like a kid, I want to find out if he is a good person before we recruit him," he would say. "I sometimes talk to their teachers–not just the coaches–to find out if they are respectful and work hard." That always stuck with me.
Years later, when I got to Ohio State, I saw a flyer for women’s football.
“Aha! I’m doing THAT.” So, the next Tuesday, I joined the group forming near the north campus dorms. But something seemed off. The young women were all very cute, had on pink sweat suits, and were freshly showered.
I had pulled my hair into a messy bun and was ready to hit the ground. I probably looked something like this when I showed up.
The coaches were from the men’s football team. I was pumped. We were going to really play! We did some lame warmups and started passing the ball in a circle. WHAT?!
I figured we would get down to real football any minute. Finally, Marcus (Merek) approached me.
“Hey, your last name is Herbstreit, right? Didn’t your dad play here?” He asked.
“Yes, and I’m ready to GO,” I answered. He laughed.
“They aren’t here to play. They’re here because they want to date us!”
I was crestfallen. I was so disappointed as I looked around at the giggling girls trying to hold a football correctly. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I applauded them, but I was in the wrong place.
“You need to go play lacrosse or rugby,” Marcus said. I thanked him and walked back into my dorm room at Blackburn Hall, hanging my head.
The next week I found the rugby team practicing down near the intramural fields.
I never looked back.
Rugby gave me all the opportunity I wanted to be tough, fast, badass, and luckily not too injured. It was full contact, no pads, just like the men's team. I scored a fair amount, but I did indeed, LOVE defending the end zone.
One woman I put down hard, had about 50 pounds on me. She was about to score and I flung my body at her hips and squeezed her legs until she couldn't run any further. She literally wore me as a belt for the first few seconds.
I found out later that she also played professional women's football in Cleveland. I felt pretty good about myself, I'm not going to lie. But even more satisfied that sports for women have come so far. That we get more chances to play everything.
I even teased men who were on the the football team a few times.
"Aw, you play football? Do you wear pads? That's cute."
When you play rugby, you get scrapes and bruises and know EXACTLY where they came from.